Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner
Rating: ★★★.5 // A tragedy restored to beauty
Favorite Line: Love….hope…humanity. Intangible, yes, but also the building blocks of self-preservation, renewal : These are the most durable possessions I have.
Through music and memories, this enchanting book brings you into the lives of those caught in the devastating Cambodian genocide.
Summary (via GoodReads)
Leaving the safety of America, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since her harrowing escape as a child refugee. She carries a letter from a man who mysteriously signs himself as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.
In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors of unfathomable violence live side by side, striving to mend their still beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, immerses herself in long-buried memories and prepares to learn her father’s fate.
Meanwhile, the Old Musician, who earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaits Teera’s visit with great trepidation. He will have to confess the bonds he shared with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.
A love story for things lost and things restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness, Music of the Ghosts is an unforgettable journey through the embattled geography of the heart and its hidden chambers where love can be reborn.
Before reading this book, I didn’t know much about the Cambodian genocide, and I definitely didn’t know how large of a genocide it really was. It is estimated up to 3 million Cambodians were killed and even more were driven from their beloved country, many never to return.
Music of the Ghosts follows Teera, a Cambodian woman who had fled with her mother when she was young and escaped to Thailand and then to the United States. Years later she returns but not as a Cambodian, but as a foreigner. This reunion with her past sparks emotions she never knew existed, and she is forced to remember the story of her past and of her people.
The main story of this book is fantastic. It is just beautiful. If you have ever read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, it is much like that–young girl returns to the land she was born in and is met with new revelations. Unlike The Joy Luck Club we follow Teera’s journey with her and experience these revelations first hand. This part of the book is so wonderful and captivating. If the entire book was focused on only that (and flashbacks to the genocide, of course) this book would be a 5 star book for me.
What bumped it down was all of the side character stories. I understand why they exist and some I like, the back story of the Old Musician, for example, is one I like. But then there are more of other monks and her parents and friends, and I got a little lost in them. Even the Old Musician story lost my interest at times.
These other stories slowed the pace down a lot, and made the book much longer than it needed to be.
The subject matter is one that needs to be written about over and over and over and over again. There are too many genocides that don’t get the coverage they need, and this one is one of them. The people who suffered and died during this time deserve their stories to be told, which is why I would recommend everyone to read this book, because I don’t know of any others written about it.
The writing style is lyrical and musical, and it flows just like you would expect it to based off the name. The contrast of music and genocide is very powerful. The author takes the pure beauty of music and set it against the pure evil of mass murder, and the beauty in her story shines brighter because of it.
Overall, I do recommend this book. It is slow at times, and you will need to pay attention to characters and timeline shifts, but once you get passed those, the beautiful story will find you.
You can buy Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner on my BookDepository affiliate page here!