In April, Miami Book Fair presented a number of events connecting Miami to Cambodian culture as inspired by Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, a novel about a young girl who comes of age during the Cambodian genocide under the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime between 1975- 1979, when an estimated 2,000,000 Cambodians were executed, or died during internment in forced labor camps.
In addition to the workshops and discussions led by Khmer-American poet Peuo Tuy, the month-long series of events opened with a Cambodian-inspired Farm to Table dinner at the Café at Books & Books at the Arsht Center, where diners were treated to a meal inspired by the cuisine of Cambodia, featuring local produce from the weekly farmer’s market held in the Arsht Center parking lot each Monday afternoon.[foogallery id=”19791″] Puppeteer Dan Walker adapted a classic Cambodian folktale “The Origin of the Tiger,” about a king’s obsession with obtaining power, into a cinematic shadow puppet performance. The event, which took place at The Lightbox at Goldman Theater was filled to capacity with approximately one hundred twenty-five in attendance. Miami Book Fair fan Liza Segal said the interplay of music, lights, shadow puppetry and dance was, “One of the most delightful and beautiful performances I’ve ever seen.”
Miami Book Fair screened two Cambodian films at O Cinema Wynwood. The Cambodian film industry was nearly destroyed under the Khmer Rouge, along with many other culturally-relevant art forms. Both of these films explored the impact of the Khmer Rouge. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten tracked the twists and turns of Cambodian music and is morphed into rock and roll and then was nearly destroyed. In The Missing Picture, film-maker Rithy Panh used archival film footage and narration, interspersed with intricately carved figurines to retell his family’s story, and that of many Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge, to fill in a part of the narrative missing from the official record. A total of about fifty participants attended the two film screenings, which both showcased ways in ordinary Cambodians thwarted the efforts of the Khmer Rouge to erase elements of a vibrant culture.
The big Big Read Event, Vaddey Ratner’s keynote speech on In the Shadow of the Banyan brought a large audience of about one hundred fifty to the Coral Gables Books & Books store. Ratner, who now lives in Malaysia traveled to Miami for the keynote address, and spoke not only of her novel and its themes of resilience, but of her own personal story of survival under the Khmer Rouge. She also signed books for the attendees, who received a free copy of In the Shadow of the Banyan.