Vaddey Ratner, a distinguished and compassionate new voice

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

To read my Publishing Perspectives interview with Vaddey Ratner, go here.

This August, readers will be introduced to Vaddey Ratner, a new and important advocate not just for story, but for compassion.  I had the opportunity to see Ratner speak at the BEA on a panel facilitated by Ron Hogan.  She struck me then as the real thing—unpretentious, honorably motivated, deeply committed to unveiling the Cambodia of her childhood.  There was terror, then.  There was great loss.  There was abominable sacrifice.  But there was also beauty, and Ratner, who came to the United States in 1981 as a child refugee speaking no English, has spent years parsing together a story that, if closely aligned with her past, does pretend to mirror it precisely.  Fiction, not memoir, is the right choice here.

When Ratner spoke of Michael Ondaatje as one source of literary inspiration, when she talked about leaving room to understand, when she asserted her decision to learn writing primarily through reading (as opposed to allowing others to shape her voice), I knew I would have to read In the Shadow of the Banyan.  I am doing that now.  I am seventy pages in.  I know, already, that Ratner is the writer she worked so hard to be.

I will have more to say when my reading is done.  This morning I quote from an early page.  The colors of a Cambodian garden, pre-Khmer Rouge, through the eyes of a seven-year-old child:

A tiny pale pink butterfly, with wings as delicate as bougainvillea petals, flew up from the gardens below and landed on the railing near my face.  I stilled myself.  It heaved as if exhausted from its long flight, its wings opening and closing, like a pair of fans waving away the morning heat.  Mama?  In one of her guises?  No, it was what it appeared to be—a baby butterfly.  So delicate it seemed to have just emerged from a chrysalis.


Harvee Lau said...

Is that lizard native to Cambodia. Does it feature in Ratner's books. Or is it just an eyecatcher for your post?

Beth Kephart said...

Harvee, the image is metaphoric.... A creature of beauty seeing beauty in an exotic place. I have never been to Cambodia, and so I have no pictures to share of that part of the world. (All photos on the blog are my own.)

Melissa Sarno said...

Ooh, I look forward to August.

patti.mallett_pp said...

So lovely - thanks for sharing, Beth.

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