On a tube in the Oconto and In the Shadow of the Banyans

We are word people, honestly born to our affinity with a true fascination for both their power and pliability.

My father in-law championed serious words in his work and silly words in his play. Grandpa Vince once gave Molly the book “The man who loved words” and it felt like the story of his life.

My mother in-law writes children’s books and sends witty emails to her nine children and 13 grandchildren; she is the matriarch of a Scrabble family that easily works words like AI (three-toed sloth) and ADZE (a wood working tool) into polite conversation.

My mother, a former college English teacher, promotes old school grammar, consistently tsking unparalleled structure and tense shifts. She and her husband John are voracious readers and, thankfully, generous lenders of their books.

My Dad grew up reading Jack London and James Fenimore Cooper, earned his nickname “Uncus” from the last of the Mohicans, and scrawled goofy limericks on scrap paper and empty walls.

My sister Jenny and my sister in-law Joan forged remarkable careers on the basis of their abilities to convey the power of the written word.

My sister Kathy is a library media specialist (a former Wisconsin Teach of the Year), and my sister in-law Cary built an enviable personal library in a spare bedroom of her house.

Naturally, then, we are readers, eager gobblers of the well-written word. Our lives are frenetic, our to-do lists too long. Still, we like to carve out time to lose ourselves in compelling stories and beautifully written prose.

Recently, we found both in “The Shadow of the Banyan”, by Vaddey Ratner.

In her debut novel, Ratner tells the brutal story of the Khmer Rouge’s swift decimation of Cambodia.

Narrated by seven-year old Raami, “The Shadow of the Banyan” reads as an homage to Cambodia, an accurate historical description of appalling political events and a lyrical tribute to a remarkable family.

Ironically, on separate weekends, Molly and I both took advantage of lazy weekends at our family’s cabin on the Oconto River to read the book. As it does in another of our favorite books, “The Latehomecomer,” by Kao Kalia Yang, the Mekong River plays a key role in the story.

The Mekong, which cuts through Cambodia and divides Thailand from Vietnam, saw its share of violence in the 1970s.

At one point this weekend, Molly and I casually floated down the Oconto River in inner tubes, basking in the peaceful summer sun and discussing vivid details of a book we both found inspiring.

From one river’s easy current to another’s heartrending historical role.

The beauty of “The Shadow of the Banyan” lies in its poetry and its determined focus on the heroes, a gifted father and a beautiful, surprising mother.

Read “In the Shadow of the Banyan” and let us know what you think.

Meanwhile, we’ll check out more beautiful words and, when we find them. we’ll share them with you here.

Here is Molly at six-years old enjoying a summer afternoon reading.
Here is Molly at six-years old enjoying a summer afternoon reading.
...and here is her Grandma Peggy circa 1989 enjoying an afternoon on the banks of the Oconto River reading.
…and here is her Grandma Peggy circa 1989 enjoying an afternoon on the banks of the Oconto River reading.
My sister in-law Cary's beautiful home library. "It is the god reader that makes the good book."
My sister in-law Cary’s beautiful home library. “It is the good reader that makes the good book.”
My view of the Oconto River this weekend, a mellow and thought provoking place to enjoy "In the Shadow of the Bayon," whose river, the Mekong, is a more powerful and violent character.
My reading spot on the banks of the Oconto River this weekend, a mellow and thought provoking place to enjoy “In the Shadow of the Bayon,” whose river, the Mekong, is a more powerful and violent character.

6 thoughts on “On a tube in the Oconto and In the Shadow of the Banyans

    1. Excellent question. I think the quote comes from the reader’s perspective in that an unread book is a wasted opportunity. I think many writers enjoy the solitary pleasure of choosing exactly the right words and arranging them beautifully, and others find pleasure in telling the story, which requires an audience (reader or listener) to complete the circle. How do you interpret the quote?

  1. I like the perspectives you offered. I agree there are many ways to look it at and I like them all. My take was more simplistic, I guess. To me it had the meaning: to be a good writer (of good books) one must be well read. In other words, a writer would probably not be any good unless they had read many good books.

    It could be my standpoint, in that I’ve just written my first manuscript and sent it to the publisher. While researching before I even put pencil to paper, one of the pieces of advice I came across time and time again was: read, read, read. Fortunately through teaching primary students for 19 years and having 2 boys (6 and 3) I am very well read in children’s literature.

    I think I might just have to have that quote on my study wall.

    1. I think it is the joy and challenge of writers to also make time to read. Thanks for your perspective. I really enjoyed the conversation and good luck with your manuscript!

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