Ratner is an eloquent writer. Her ability to evoke time and place and capture the essence of language (in the form of poetry, songs and stories) is remarkable. And the material here is compelling – one family’s displacement and struggle during the Cambodian Civil War in 1975.
On the other hand, Ratner struggles here with two things. First, she falls prey to the “wise child” narrator syndrome. At 7, Raami simply would not have access to the insights she offers here. If Ratner meant to distinguish between the older Raami and the Raami who is caught up in the moment, the distinction eluded me. Second, the story has no real momentum. Big moments are made small. And small moments can seem endless. The problem may be explained in the first line of her author’s note when she writes, “Raami’s story is, in essence, my own.” If she wanted to present this as memoir, it may have worked better. But because a thing is true does not mean it makes for or needs to be included in a story.
It’s a first novel. I expect that with her skills and a good editor, the next book will be better.