In the Shadow of the Banyan

13057939I read In the Shadow of the Banyan at the beginning of the month.  It took me three and a half days to read but then plunged me into a week + worth of thought.  We’re nearing the close of the month of May and I still can’t get this book off my mind.  I figure my reading for the month of May was all worth it because I had the pleasure of experiencing my second 5 star book of the year 2014.  Now if you’ve been following me here or over at frenchiedee you know that I absolutely don’t have a habit of giving out 5 star ratings.

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the fictionalised story of Vaddey Ratner’s four-year ordeal living through the genocide that took place in Cambodia once the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975.  The main character is called Raami and she is seven years old when the story begins.  The first few chapters we are introduced to her family and their lifestyle.  They are a wealthy and privileged family.  They are a royal family in Cambodia and her father is a poet as well.  Soon there after we learn that the Khmer Rouge have taken over the country and are driving the population from the city to the countryside.  There they are made to work in the rice paddies, surviving on little food.  The Khmer Rouge are enforcing Marxist philosophy on the population and forcing them to forget life as it was before.  People of privilege, professors, scientists, teachers, artists, musicians, etc. are hunted down and killed.  They are perceived as enemies to the Organization.

This story is more than just a retelling of a historical event and of Ratner’s experience.  It is a story of human survival.  I’m sure every reader of this novel wonders how they would behave if they had to go through such a situation.  I thought through it so much and feel as though I would have caved in and hoped for a swift death.  Ratner shows the limits of human beings and how survival is not necessarily dictated by what one may think.  Raami thinks a lot of her father, the things she remembers that he said to her, and of his poetry.  Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can help someone to survive.

The writing in In the Shadow of the Banyan is absolutely beautiful!  That Ratner could write such beautiful prose about such a blight on Cambodian history and on her family is remarkable.  Since we see this story through the eyes of a seven year old, things are recounted with much detail.  This detail may be perceived as wordy but I assure you that it is not the case.  The descriptions are there so that we as readers are literally transported to Cambodia.  We see, feel, and taste what Raami describes.  There were passages that were difficult to read, but Ratner’s writing becomes a metaphor for the insidious behaviour of the Khmer Rouge. In the beginning the people don’t understand what is happening to them but quickly things change and they realise they are trapped in horror.  Even Raami develops over the 410 pages tremendously.  In the beginning, she is naive young and joyful despite her handicap, but her character development is portrayed with the right flow of the story.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the relationship between mother and daughter in such a traumatic life/death event.  Their relationship at the beginning of the story seems fairly undefined but thrown into the uncertainty of this historical event, mother and daughter learn a lot about each other and marvel over each others’ strengths.  This is one of the most touching parts of the story.  I just can’t gush enough over this novel.  It’s a must read.  Pick this one up because you won’t regret it.  Check out Vaddey Ratner below talking about In the Shadow of the Banyan.

 

Maya Angelou a Phenomenal Woman

I was reading when a notification popped up on my iPad.  It read “Maya Angelou dead at 86”.  I dropped everything in search of the article.  I just couldn’t believe it.  I still can’t believe it.  Maya Angelou will be greatly missed.  I heard someone say “My black feminist heart is weeping.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Maya Angelou was a jack of all trades, but most of all inspiration for everyone.  Her quotes give advice on love, liberation, freedom, women, men, education, and on many other dilemmas of life.  She will live on through these quotes, her poems, and novels.  I can say I was one of the lucky ones to have had the pleasure to see and hear this intelligent, wise beyond centuries woman speak in person.  I remember how captivated the audience was when she spoke.  The air was light and our spirits were lifted.  The silence in the room was devoted to that special moment of sharing her poetry, her expression.  I’ll never forget it.  As a tribute to Maya Angelou writer, poet, educator, actor, director, producer,  historian, activist, playwright, and….

PHENOMENAL WOMAN

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size       Maya-Angelou
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou