Friday, June 23, 2017

Music of the Ghosts

Title:  Music of the Ghosts
Author:  Vaddey Ratner
Publication Information:  Touchstone. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1476795789 / 978-1476795782

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Suteera wakes amidst the high grass to a tremor several meters away."

Favorite Quote:  "Truth, she believed, lies in what is said as much as in what isn't, in the same way that a melody not only is a sequence of audible notes but encompasses the spaces and pauses in between. When listening to music, you must learns to take in even the atmosphere of an echo."

As in her first book In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner returns to the atrocities and impact of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in this book, Music of the Ghosts. The Khmer Rouge came to be as a result of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. They came to power in the 1970s as a result of a civil war in Cambodia. The years that followed were years of war, genocide, family, executions, and vast destruction. The impact of their tyrannical rule is still felt today. These books, though fiction, are a reflection of the author's own experiences of survival through this regime, making these stories intensely personal.

In the Shadow of the Banyan tells the story of survival through the eyes of a very young and innocent narrator. The book is heart breaking in its imagery, intensity, and, at the same time, innocence. Music of the Ghosts is about memories - memories of those who survived. This book brings together those who were the victims and those who would have been considered the perpetrators. It blurs the line between perpetrator and victim in highlighting the fact that some of those who joined the Khmer Rouge with the best of intentions for their homeland also became the victims of the regime's atrocities.

The book brings together different perspectives - the Old Musician who ended up on the wrong side of history and bears the scars and the guilt of lifetimes; Narunn who lost everything and yet emerged willing to try and make things better; and Suteera who found escape and a home in a new land but could never leave the memories behind.

The book blends past and present, navigating through memories and emotions and their impact on the individuals trying to live life forward. The books reads as though music and thoughts echo through the years, with the vibrations felt through all time.

As with In the Shadow of the Banyan, the imagery and the writing is visual and beautiful. At times though, this book seems to try too hard. I find myself caught up in the historical / political / philosophical point being made:
  • "... The American have officially ended their airstrikes in Cambodia. Other nations quickly condemned this denouement as irresponsible, leaving in its wake a massive refugee crisis and a government military, a supposed US ally, now far outmatched by the insurgent army. A clear indication of how the United States will treat the rest of its Asian allies, and perhaps the rest of the world. When the going gets tough, one diplomat decried, the tough abscond."
  • "Your progress was the justice I dreamt for my country. The right that would've eradicated the wrongs of my history...."
  • "When I think of the unfathomable suffering, the countless lives lost and broken, I'm left with this profound hope that someday there will exist a world where justice is not simply the exchange of a life for a life, an ideal of retribution to right a wrong, but a path one walks and lives, a way of being."
  • "This is what we all live with as a people, the painful awareness that this history - war, atrocity, genocide, whatever its name - surrounds us persistently, at times binding like a metal chain, other times incorporeal as dust. Even so, we can still move forward, with the small choices we make each day. To love , to harbor and protect, to rebuild."
The history being narrated is an important one, and the commentary on the political ramifications are timely. However, in reading fiction, I would rather be carried away by the story and being left with an understanding of the history. This book stops short of that feeling. Nevertheless, I am a fan and look forward to seeing what Vaddey Ratner writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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