My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was a bit slow during the first half and the prose at times painfully grandiloquent to the point where it felt forced. I really had to will myself through the first half of the book, knowing it would take a turn at some point given the novel’s subject matter. Having just finished, I think the contrast between Raami’s flowery recount of life in the first half of the book was written intentionally to show the effects of war and genocide. The closer you get to the end of the story, the more grisly the depiction of life through her eyes. Despite the fact that the narration was that of a seven year old girl, I read the book as more of the author’s memoir and her retrospection. As a Cambodian with parents who also survived the Khmer Rouge Regime, I initially started this book with some reservations and prejudgment, but overall I actually really enjoyed it and felt it was authentic to the country and its people. I saw a lot of my mother in Aana, Raami’s mother. In the Shadow of the Banyan is a story that focuses more on the human spirit rather than a deep dive into the hellish nightmare that Cambodia endured. In this sense, it remains true to the experience because ultimately the human spirit and our tenacity to live is the only story that matters in the thick of devastation and persecution.