In the Shadow of the Banyan
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.
Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.
Transforming Tragedy into Art
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Reading Group Guide
“To keep you is no gain, to kill you is no loss.” For seven-year-old Raami, the collapse of her childhood world begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the upheaval that has overwhelmed the streets of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. It is April 1975, and the civil war between the U.S.-backed government and the Khmer Rouge insurgency has reached its climax. As Raami plays in the magical world of her family’s estate, she is intrigued by the adults’ hushed exchanges that pit hopes for the long-awaited peace against fears that this might be the end of the life they know, a life protected and cushioned by their royal lineage. On the morning of the lunar New Year, a young soldier dressed in the black of the Revolution invades that world of carefully guarded privilege. Within hours, Raami and her family join a mass exodus as the new Khmer Rouge regime evacuates Cambodia’s cities.
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