This 2012 novel, Ratner’s first, tells the gorgeous, wrenching story of a prince’s daughter, Raami, who grows up in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge takes over in 1975. Although this is a work of fiction, it’s autobiographical: Ratner grew up as a member of the royal family, a position that made her and her relatives extremely vulnerable during the regime change—and led to their ultimate destruction. This is a great pick for clubs that have enjoyed books like Nothing to Envy or A House in the Sky. Our discussion centered on power and humanity. We also talked about blame, forgiveness, and hope within the context of a struggling family.
There are many resources available for clubs reading In the Shadow of the Banyan. Simon & Schuster did a great reading group guide. LIT discussed several of these questions quite deeply, notably those of Raami’s guilt and her role in the evolving family dynamics. Raami’s illness and disability also became key discussion points.
For clubs who like background information, there are lots of very thorough interviews and book reviews related to the book from the New York Times Sunday Book Review, NPR, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and others. We found a particularly useful chronology of Cambodian history on the BBC website that helped us contextualize the novel’s events.
Some good news for clubs who enjoy Banyan: Ratner has a new book coming out this April, Music of the Ghosts, which tells the story of an American citizen who journeys to Cambodia to find her father, who disappeared twenty-five years ago.