My Gun Was As Tall As Me, I've been interested in reading and learning about Southeast Asia. In The Shadow of the Banyan is set in Cambodia during the revolution in the 1970s. The history of Asian countries isn't something I'm at all familiar with, so everything that I read about was new to me.
And it was new for seven year old Raami too, as her parents are forced from their family home and sent on the move. But Raami's family are royalty, and as such are especially hated by the Khmer Rouge communists. Raami, her mother and father, her younger sister, her grandmother, uncle, aunt, and cousins, are all forced to live in circumstances they aren't used to - cramped housing and bad food. But as the novel progresses, the family are divided by war and death. It's an awful journey for Raami, one that gets worse, and it breaks her childhood with its harrowing events.
In The Shadow of the Banyan is told from Raami's point of view, but while she might at times refer to things with childlike images, such as magician's tricks and stories, the wording used is oddly mature, and it's quite jarring. In one paragraph the voice can shift from being full of a young girl's wonder, to being full of grandiose words.
Much of the narrative is over-descriptive, flowery, and too much at once. That's not something I would usually complain about in a book - I love me some adjectives - buut I could almost feel the author's effort and attempts at profundity.
This novel grew from Ratner's own childhood memories, and with that in mind it makes sense that there would be an effort to make the land as vivid as possible, and to be true to characters that are based on real people. But, for this reader at least, it was far too dense, and at times frustrating, though usually only when characters began to speak to one another in such a way.
In The Shadow of the Banyan was a history lesson for me, and I'm amazed that such events can take place in history and that some people might never know. The setting and the journey of the characters is itneresting, but this isn't a style of writing that I could particularly enjoy.
Simon and Schuster; September 2012