In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner and Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera, both fictional accounts, tell devastating stories of beautiful, far away Asian countries torn apart by actual wars. Yet, the authors use their own unique and extraordinary gift of language to bring their characters and their world to life in ways that allow for tenderness and beauty, even among the chaos and atrocities of conflict. Both stories are a testament to the power of human resilience.

In the Shadow of the Banyan, seven-year-old Raami is caught up in a struggle to survive under the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Under this Communist regime, cities were emptied, schools and hospitals closed and families were forced into labor camps in a misguided attempt to create an agrarian utopia that only led to famine and widespread death. During this period of history, it is estimated that 25 percent of the Cambodian population perished. In the novel, Raami suffers the loss of several family members as well as starvation and other brutalities over the course of four years, yet still manages to find moments of hope and joy along the way that help her to survive.

While the novel is closely tied to her own life, Ratner chose to write the story as a novel rather than a memoir as she was so young at the time and exact details were quite difficult to recall.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera follows the lives of two women on opposing sides of the devastating Sri Lankan Civil War which lasted over twenty-five years and ended in 2009.

Yasodhara, from a Sinhala family, and Saraswathi, from a Tamil family, are connected by war. Narrated by these two unforgettably authentic voices, the story unfolds as an emotionally resonant saga of cultural heritage, heartbreaking conflict and deep family bonds.

Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo,

Yasodhara’s and her siblings’ lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents’ ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between the Tamil and Sinhala people—but this peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara’s family escapes to Los Angeles. But Yasodhara’s life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl.

Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways.

Again, both stories meld together despair and hope in the tenderest of ways that end as a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit despite seemingly unbearable odds.

Both of these titles are available at the Yankton Community Library.