Saturday, March 19, 2016

In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner

Author Vaddey Ratner was five years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh and forced all of the city dwellers out of the city and into the countryside in an attempt to establish a communist agrarian utopia. In the Shadow of the Banyan is a novel that's closely based on her experiences as a child during the time the Khmer Rouge was in power, 1975-1979.

The main character of the book is Raami, the 7-year old daughter of a Cambodian prince. As a member of the royal family, they would have been immediately targeted for execution if her father hadn't concocted an alternate identity for them. Since he was well-known, however, he admitted his own identity, resulting in his removal from his family and presumed execution. Raami and her family are moved from place to place in the countryside, forced to do manual labor in rice fields and to construct levees. The mismanagement of all aspects of the government and agriculture resulted in widespread famine and millions of deaths. Anyone who was considered educated was targeted for the worst treatment and often assassination. Over the ensuing four years, Raami loses almost everyone important to her. This book tells her story, and by extension, Ms. Ratner's story as well. Much of what occurs in this novel did in fact occur to Ms. Ratner and her family members.

While this story is immeasurably sad, it is beautifully written. I couldn't put it down, and only did so to look up interesting details about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia to help with the historical context. Ms. Ratner's journey to safety lead her to the United States, and I'm glad she was able to tell her own and others' stories through her fictionalized account of her ordeal. This book is enhanced by the inclusion of an "Author's Note" and "A Conversation with Vaddey Ratner," in both of which she discusses her own story and how it differs from Raami's.

Vaddey Ratner. In the Shadow of the Banyan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012. 334 pages. ISBN 9781451657708. Advance Reader's Edition.

What They Found: Love on 145th Street, by Walter Dean Myers

This collection of 15 interconnected short stories are about a group of characters centered around 145th Street in Harlem. The central theme of the collection is love of all kinds. Including parental love, romantic love, the love between close friends, and the love of siblings for each other, these stories are emotionally satisfying while not being saccharine. They explore the challenges of poverty, war, single parenthood, and more. Many of the characters pop up in different stories. This book is a followup to an earlier collection by Mr. Myers, 145th Street: Short Stories, and many of the characters appeared in that collection as well.

I found all of the stories to be well-written. While dealing with serious subjects, there is still a lot of humor in this book. Although Mr. Myers often writes for the young adult audience, this collection would be appropriate for all ages. I haven't read the earlier collection, my prior experience with Mr. Myers' fiction being limited to Sunrise over Fallujah, mentioned here. The war in Iraq, written about so eloquently by Mr. Myers in Sunrise, reappears in the 15th story in this collection, "Combat Zone," which is about soldier Curtis Mason and the friendships and love he finds in Iraq.

Walter Dean Myers. What They Found: Love on 145th Street. Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books, 2007. 243 pages. ISBN 9780385321389. Advance Readers' Copy.

The Heart-Led Leader, by Tommy Spaulding

Everything you need to know about this book is summarized in the title: The Heart-Led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart Will Change Your Organization and Your Life. Author Tommy Spaulding makes the case that operating from the heart and with love will improve your chances to succeed in both your work and personal life. Throughout the rest of the book he elaborates on this central theme by sharing dozens of anecdotes about people that he has known who have done just that.

Mr. Spaulding discusses 18 principles or qualities in the second part of the book; these correspond to the 18 inches that he writes is the distance from the head to the heart. These principles address love, humility, caring, passion, selflessness, authenticity, self-awareness, faithfulness, character, vulnerability, forgiveness, purpose, encouragement, empathy, generosity, honesty, trust, and transparency.

While there's nothing ground-breaking about this work or his presentation, The Heart-Led Leader is a useful discussion about what makes leaders successful, and what makes them worthy of emulation. Mr. Spaulding describes valuable leadership qualities and illustrates them with many anecdotes. This is clearly a heartfelt and honest look at what it takes to be successful in work and life. Those who aspire to be leaders will find this book a useful reminder of the values that make people great.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tommy Spaulding. The Heart-Led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart Will Change Your Organization and Your Life. New York: Crown Business, 2015. 238 pages. ISBN 9780553419030.