Vaddey Ratner's new novel is In the Shadow of the Banyan.
From a Q & A at her website:
In the Shadow of the Banyan is a novel, but it is closely based on your family’s experience in Cambodia during the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. Why did you decide to write it as a novel rather than a memoir?Visit Vaddey Ratner's website.
I was a small child when the Khmer Rouge took over the country. Revisiting that period of our life, I found that I couldn’t trust myself completely to recall the exact details of the events and places and the chronology of our forced exodus from the city to the countryside, the journey from one place to the next during the span of those four years. I did initially try to write it as a memoir. But sorting through my own memories and what my mother was able to share with me, as well as the historical record, I kept asking myself again and again, What is the story I want to tell? What is my purpose for telling it? It isn’t so much the story of the Khmer Rouge experience, of genocide, or even of loss and tragedy. What I wanted to articulate is something more universal, more indicative, I believe, of the human experience—our struggle to hang onto life, our desire to live, even in the most awful circumstances. In telling this story, it isn’t my own life I wished others to take note of. I have survived, and the gift of survival, I feel, is honor enough already. My purpose is to honor the lives lost, and I wanted to do so by endeavoring to transform suffering into art.
That’s not to say that a memoir doesn’t demand artistry and skill. I’ve read many beautifully crafted literary memoirs — Angela’s Ashes, Autobiography of a Face, Running in the Family, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Woman Warrior… In my case, because I was so young when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, and with hardly any surviving family records or pictures as source material, I had only my own mostly traumatic recollections and the understandably reluctant remembrances of my mother to rely on. What’s more, those whom I wished to write about, whose sufferings I felt deserve to be heard and remembered above my own story, are gone. I didn’t want them to be...[read on]