Set in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, this book hits its stride at around midpoint. Raani's narrative deploys a vocabulary that belies her age, yet retains a child's curiosity and innocence. Her descriptions of the natural world are beautiful and vivid, contrasting sharply with later depictions of human deprivation, cruelty and violence. Few stories have moved me to tears, but this saga of human resilience almost succeeded.
But the real reason we stayed, I sensed, was simply that we couldn't bear to leave the place where Papa had last been, where the ground echoed with his footsteps, the trees heaved his sighs, and the pond mirrored his tranquility. Here, we could still be with him, and, as much as we wished to free his spirit, to let it travel the invisible universe and look for a new home, we were not ready to let go. We clung to it - the possibility that he existed among us, even as a ghost, even as an echo or shadow - because to let go was to relinquish our hope, to admit and submit to utter, irreversible despair.