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Music of the Ghosts

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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 turm 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.


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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 turm 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.

30 review for Music of the Ghosts

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Love....hope... humanity. Intangible, yes, but also the building blocks of self-preservation, renewal : These are the most durable possesions I have. If Vaddey Ratner's debut In the Shadow of the Banyan was an emotional and beautifully written read (if sometimes structurally weak), Ratner's follow up continues to showcase her lush and gorgeous writing while also delivering a more complicated, less autobiographical, and ultimately a stronger total package of a second novel. I'd give this a solid fou Love....hope... humanity. Intangible, yes, but also the building blocks of self-preservation, renewal : These are the most durable possesions I have. If Vaddey Ratner's debut In the Shadow of the Banyan was an emotional and beautifully written read (if sometimes structurally weak), Ratner's follow up continues to showcase her lush and gorgeous writing while also delivering a more complicated, less autobiographical, and ultimately a stronger total package of a second novel. I'd give this a solid four stars: I really liked it, though it could be slowly paced in some parts. Music of the Ghosts still invokes the shadow and horrors of the period of war and genocide during American bombing and the Khmer Rouge regime, but it is first and foremost focused on what survival means for those who escaped but also lost everything, what it means to remember and to forget, what it means to forgive others and oneself, how the Cambodian people (and humans more broadly) can be broken apart and brutalized but can also heal hurts together and move forward, setting free the ghosts that haunt us to be peaceful spirits. "We've become adept not so much as escaping punishment but at escaping reflection. We fear to plumb the dark and see ourselves in it, the role we played in its creation, because if we go to that depth again we may not be able to resurface, to return to light." The two main characters, Teera and the Old Man (Tun) are solid but are also vessels for Ratner to ask her questions and search for answers. Teera the younger expatriate who returned to Cambodia after the death of her last surviving relative, her aunt, the only other person to escape death during the conflict. Teera's conflict is about coming to terms with her homeland and her Cambodian identity, something she's struggled with after losing nearly her entire family as a child and forging a new life abroad. Returning to Cambodia means facing her loss, grief, and anger, at herself, her family, the nation. The Old Man's story meanwhile deals with loss but also with guilt, as he has committed wrongs during the past conflict, and is ambivalent about forgiving himself, let alone allowing others to forgive him. The two come together, and Ratner weaves their pasts and presents into the narrative, and we shift through time to see how various actions and ideas have rippled into the present day. There are rich layers of historical detail, and information about the conflict I was completely unaware of, all of which is tied up in Ratner's evocative and sumptuous prose. And it's not necessarily her descriptions of places or things that are so lush, though I could fairly well picture the various locations in Cambodia past and present that the characters inhabit. Rather, it's the inner worlds and souls of these characters and the nation, in dialogue, in action and reaction, in storytelling that is so well developed and has such a sharp emotional impact. I think that's why I'd rate this four stars: I never forgot that these characters were instruments for Ratner's ideas, so they don't stand as well of their own two feet as individuals I won't forget or cared about. But I was drawn to what and how they thought and expressed themselves, and what and how those ideas and emotions meant in a larger context for the Cambodian people and humanity as a whole. In the absence of sight, when all is dark around you, it takes a deep-seated faith that others will answer your appeal, that their humanity will rise to meet your lifted hand, your raised hope, and in that brief moment, you cross the otherwise arbitrary divide between death and life. Overall, I'm very happy to have read Vaddey Ratner's follow up to In the Shadow of the Banyan. Music of the Ghosts continues to showcase her talent, and also proves that she can inhabit other characters as well as she was able to fictionalize her own history in her debut. I recommend this for literary fiction fans of a slowly paced but beautifully written read, one that asks a lot of questions and presents a number of ideas about guilt and forgiveness and life, and certainly an interest in 20th century history in Southeast Asia or Southeast Asian culture will help. And again, the characters themselves are less important or memorable as I might want them to be, but their stories, their suffering, their survival and rebirth are very emotionally impactful, and Ratner's language and ideas will stay with me for some time. -received a egalley on edelweiss thanks to Touchstone / Simon & Schuster

  2. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    I'm setting this aside . Beautifully written and an important story but too slow and I just can't plough through it now. Maybe I'll go back to it at some point.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Anze

    "The past, surely he knows, is tricky terrain riddled with potholes and pitfalls and unmarked graves. No matter how vigilant you are, you can find yourself in a head-on collision and amidst the shock and reverberation, catch in the periphery of your vision a phantom of your deepest longing." Teera was a child when she and her aunt were able to escape the Khmer Rouge ruthless regime but the remainder of their family were not so lucky. Arriving and eventually settling in the US, Teera m "The past, surely he knows, is tricky terrain riddled with potholes and pitfalls and unmarked graves. No matter how vigilant you are, you can find yourself in a head-on collision and amidst the shock and reverberation, catch in the periphery of your vision a phantom of your deepest longing." Teera was a child when she and her aunt were able to escape the Khmer Rouge ruthless regime but the remainder of their family were not so lucky. Arriving and eventually settling in the US, Teera makes this place her new home. As an adult Teera receives a letter sent by a man claiming to have known her father while both were imprioned by the the regime and simply signed "the old musician". Longing for answers Teera returns to Cambodia to meet this man and, hopefully, find closure for the wounds that have been festering since she left Cambodia. WOW! This book is without a doubt one of the best I have ever read. I read Vaddey Ratner's previous book a few years back and upon learning about this one, could not wait to get my hands on it. It did not just meet my expectations but actually surpassed them. Teera was fortunate to flee Cambodia but only had her aunt with her. The remainder of her family is presumed dead or captured by the Khmer Rouge. The country is in disarray and chaos, the regime practically razing it. Having built a life in the US, Teera has escaped the regime but in her heart, she misses her home. When she recieves a letter from the "old musician" saying he knew her father, Teera decides to return. This work is tender, evocative, lyrical, profound and just exquisite in its execution. I could randomly choose a page and paragraph and find a beautifully expressed thought. I thought I would read this book in two, maybe, three seatings but it took me longer, at times only reading a few pages. But I do not regret all the time I spent on this book. You can tell the author poured her heart and soul onto these pages. I love how Ratner transmited a sense of forgiveness and renewal despite all the brutality, a truly atmospheric read. A must read. "Love...hope...humanity. Intangible, yes, but also the building blocks of self-preservation, renewal." The Khmer Rouge came to control Cambodia in 1975, after winning the war. What should have been a fresh start became a genocide. The "metamorphosis of idealism into depravity" was sudden, radical and extreme. Preferring self-reliance over foreign aid, the regime cut off the country from the rest of the world. They forced city-wide evacuations, sent people to villages to produce rice and got rid of their "enemies". People with ties to the previous government (or other governments), professionals, intellectuals, writers, teachers, artists, musicians, ethnic minorities and Buddhist monks (plus members of ther religions) became the enemy of the regime. As such, they were put into one, of at least 150 prisons, tortured and then killed. Its estimated that between 1.5 and 3 million people were killed in total. So many of these murders were completely arbitrary as there was no proof of any wrondoing on their part. The country faced famine, there was no education or any semblance of progression. It was just a show of force and a bloody massacre. The regime was ousted in 1979 but in that time period, caused terrible and profound repercussions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Taryn Pierson

    The gift that was our trip to see Hamilton keeps on giving. Recently the Library Hotel called to say they loved the blog post I wrote detailing our stay, and wouldn’t you know it, they still had a copy of that ARC I mentioned wanting to steal from the front desk, and if I’d confirm my address, they’d put it in the mail and send it to me with their thanks. See, kids? The lesson here is don’t steal things. Write publicly about your desire to steal them, and people will give them to you for The gift that was our trip to see Hamilton keeps on giving. Recently the Library Hotel called to say they loved the blog post I wrote detailing our stay, and wouldn’t you know it, they still had a copy of that ARC I mentioned wanting to steal from the front desk, and if I’d confirm my address, they’d put it in the mail and send it to me with their thanks. See, kids? The lesson here is don’t steal things. Write publicly about your desire to steal them, and people will give them to you for free! Anyway, I was jazzed to get my hands on this ARC, because Southeast Asian history is an area I’d like to learn more about. I feel like I know so little about the culture, the struggles, and *ahem* U.S. involvement in that part of the world, even when it comes to the past fifty years or so. There’s no excuse, man! Especially right now, when U.S. relations with just about every other country in the world are so fraught with tension and uncertainty. Ratner is a really lovely writer, and she tells a sometimes brutal and heartrending story with a featherlight touch. Obviously it’s hard to sell people on a book by saying, “Here! Read this book about a genocide!” but Ratner truly does spin straw (or worse) into gold here. It’s an ugly story at times, but her telling of it is consistently beautiful. I also found main character Teera’s reflections on feeling Cambodian in America and American in Cambodia to be incredibly timely and honest, again particularly in light of the current hostility towards immigrants. I imagine it would be very difficult to feel welcome here with the vitriol that has been spewing from so many mouths. With warmest regards to the Library Hotel for the advance copy. On sale April 11! More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Thank you to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. I read Ratner’s debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan, earlier this year and was mesmerized by her lyrical language and her convincing child narrator. In many respects, Music of the Ghosts is a spiritual sequel to that debut. In Ratner’s own words, “If my first novel…is a story of survival, Music of the Ghosts is a story of survivors.” This second novel is about a woman named Suteera who survived the Khmer R Thank you to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. I read Ratner’s debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan, earlier this year and was mesmerized by her lyrical language and her convincing child narrator. In many respects, Music of the Ghosts is a spiritual sequel to that debut. In Ratner’s own words, “If my first novel…is a story of survival, Music of the Ghosts is a story of survivors.” This second novel is about a woman named Suteera who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide as a child before moving to the United States, and about an old Cambodian musician who contacts her saying he knew her father before he died. Suteera and the Old Musician reflect on the echoes of their trauma and loss, on the way the dead and the living coexist through music and memory, and on the surprising renewal of joy in their lives. First off, if you’re interested in Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge regime, or studies of genocide, you should read this book. If you’re just looking for some good literary fiction, this book has beautiful qualities, but a fair number of distracting flaws. Its main strength is the grace and poetry of Ratner’s prose. Her writing is breathtaking at times: “Tendrils of smoke coil upward and vanish with the cool breeze. The air is redolent of charcoal and firewood, the warmth of waking.” “He often feels she is the current, that inaudible music just beyond hearing, slipping through this world, and he’s merely one of those things, like a leaf or a laundered sheet, that take on movement, flutter to life, when she brushes past.” “A dream, he told himself. He’d journeyed into a landscape that harbored not one moon but two, where a self could exist both as a fragmented sliver and as a complete whole, not contradictions but inverted reflections of the same truth.” Ratner’s grappling with big, big themes here, and there are plenty of insightful reflections on things like grief, justice, and forgiveness (both on the individual level and the national level). But this book’s weaknesses undercut its ability for those reflections to land. First of all, these characters are wooden shells. Ratner gives them some touches of individual identity, but for the most part, they’re very obvious vessels for her ideas. I know about the histories and life philosophies of the two main characters, but I couldn’t tell you one meaningful thing about either of their personalities. Paradoxically, they embody the essence of emotions but lack humanity. Consequently, I had little interest in either of them, even though their journeys were theoretically engaging. Secondly, the novel has very little plot beyond the basic premise, which isn’t necessarily a problem. But this absence of plot is continuously highlighted by the book’s structure and writing style. Suteera and the Old Musician’s chapters constantly alternate, but I think it would’ve been a much more gripping reading experience if there had been two chapters from one character before moving to the other, or if the chapters themselves had just been twice as long. As it was, this was what the structure felt like: -Chapter: The Old Musician makes tea and thinks about life. -Chapter: Suteera enters a courtyard and thinks about life. -Chapter: The Old Musician drinks his tea. Life thoughts. -Chapter: Suteera walks across the courtyard, accompanied by thoughts about life. It got to the point where things were painfully slow (and I’m speaking as a reader who enjoys slow books), and everything was murderously introspective. It was merciless. I felt like screaming for ANYTHING to happen, just to give me a respite from the calculated poignancy of these people’s thoughts. Which brings me to the third main problem. Yes, Ratner has some gorgeous things to say about life’s biggest questions, but too often she strays into heavy-handedness. Usually, scenes felt like set-ups for life observations: (Scene where the Old Musician sees something burning) LINE ABOUT THE DESTRUCTIVE NATURE OF HUMANITY (Scene with people playing musical instruments in the forest) LINE WITH A METAPHOR CONNECTING MUSIC, DEATH, AND LIFE (Scene with two lovers in a bed) LINE ABOUT SHARED GRIEF AND THE HEALING POWER OF LOVE Ultimately, I felt like I was reading Ratner’s thinly-veiled, deeply existential diary instead of a fully-formed, immersive story. So although I appreciated and admired plenty of things about this book, I can’t fully recommend it as a rewarding reading experience.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Haunting and gorgeous despite the sorrow, loss and longing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    3 -stars, if we could do that here. there are many things this novel does very well, yet i couldn't get past feeling that it was overwritten, to the point i was distracted by the writing a few times, instead of being swept along by the story. (and i'm not even sure that's the right way to describe it? and i am sorry if this sounds like a jerk-ish criticism for a book dealing with such important and difficult subject matter.) but let's focus on the good!! ratner does have a 3 ½-stars, if we could do that here. there are many things this novel does very well, yet i couldn't get past feeling that it was overwritten, to the point i was distracted by the writing a few times, instead of being swept along by the story. (and i'm not even sure that's the right way to describe it? and i am sorry if this sounds like a jerk-ish criticism for a book dealing with such important and difficult subject matter.) but let's focus on the good!! ratner does have a lyrical quality to her writing which paired well with the musicality threading through this story. and it was an interesting approach to writing about cambodia and the horrors caused by the khmer rouge. there are some truly beautiful moments within the inconceivable evil and devastations. while the storytelling is bleak and difficult at moments, there is also hope in music of ghosts. i also really felt the strength of cambodia as a character in this novel - something i really enjoy as a reader, when an author is able to do this well. as with her first novel (which i still have not read, though it sits on my shelf, so i should really make it a priority), ratner brings personal experiences of her survival in cambodia, and her life as a refugee to her second novel. i found her afterword very interesting and a wonderful inclusion with the novel. "If my first novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, is a story of survival, Music of Ghosts is a story of survivors ... My motivation in writing is to explore the questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness, and justice - in the chambers of the heart, and in the intimate encounters where perpetrator and victim sit face-to-face." bit of an aside: this is the third book i have read in the past couple of weeks that threads music with armed conflicts - and a completely unintentional act on my part. (the other two: The Gustav Sonata and Do Not Say We Have Nothing.) it's heartbreaking and confounding that history continues to repeat itself, and these three novels - dealing with different times and different places - are so relevant and necessary today.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    2.5 stars This is an emotional, contemplative novel about two survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, who struggle to come to terms with their memories decades after the genocide. Unfortunately, its characters are half-baked: one of the protagonists is a blank slate despite nearing middle age, while the other is built up as a reformed villain only to turn out not to be a villain at all. Teera arrives in Cambodia in 2003, for the first time since fleeing the country for Thailan 2.5 stars This is an emotional, contemplative novel about two survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, who struggle to come to terms with their memories decades after the genocide. Unfortunately, its characters are half-baked: one of the protagonists is a blank slate despite nearing middle age, while the other is built up as a reformed villain only to turn out not to be a villain at all. Teera arrives in Cambodia in 2003, for the first time since fleeing the country for Thailand and ultimately the United States in 1979, at the age of 13. She’s drawn to return in part by the dying wish of her aunt, the only other member of her family to survive, and in part by a letter from a man calling himself the Old Musician, who wants to give her musical instruments that belonged to her father. The Old Musician, aka Tun, lives in a monastery where he nurses his physical and emotional injuries from the days of the Khmer Rouge, and seems to live in a state of constant self-flagellation. The novel alternates between the perspectives of these two characters, as they wander about feeling lots of feelings, remembering their traumas in detail, and witnessing the harsh realities of Cambodia in 2003 (a country full of poverty and violence, though this never threatens the protagonists directly). Given that this book revolves around the characters’ emotional journeys, it’s a shame they aren’t better-drawn. Teera in particular is a blank slate; she’s supposed to be 37, but I would have pegged her at late teens or early 20s, as she seems to have neither lived an adult life, nor to have thought about her life and what she wants from it. How does she feel about being single and childless at 37? How has her community of Cambodian refugees in Minnesota reacted to this? Has she ever had a romantic partner, or even a friend; has she connected with anyone other than her aunt in the last 24 years? And if not, how does she so easily fall into a romance once the book begins? Has she found purpose in her work as a grant writer (mentioned only to tell us she quit to go to Cambodia), or is it just a job, and if so, what does motivate and interest her? She apparently wants to be a writer, so what has she written in all that time, or if she hasn’t, why not? None of these questions are answered. Teera has a lot of feelings about her childhood, her family and her home country, but she’s lacking a personality and a life history outside of her childhood trauma. She doesn’t quite feel real. Tun has had more of a life, though he’s still not a complex character. My issue here is that the book is presented as addressing the way Khmer Rouge victims and perpetrators now live side-by-side in Cambodia, and Tun is built up as the perpetrator in Teera’s father’s death. But it turns out to be one of those stories where, when our so-called villain protagonist’s history is revealed, he hasn’t actually done anything that awful. Tun joined the Khmer Rouge because he opposed the previous bad government and believed this would help bring democracy, and then he did his best at every turn. Every horrific thing he’s supposedly done turns out to have been either a mercy killing or something he was forced to do under torture or at gunpoint. I’m not sure what to make of this: was the author’s point that there were very few real villains, just lots of good people struggling with the terrible hand they were dealt? Or did she just chicken out on creating a complex and morally flawed character? And while we’re at it, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the rest of the cast either. The repeated introduction of three-year-old girls orphaned under traumatic circumstances, and yet who are complete angels who bring nothing but joy and love (definitely never frustration or difficulty) to adult lives, was a bit much. One such child I might have grudgingly accepted, but two? But I did learn a bit about Cambodia and its history from the book, and it’s a fairly quick read, though the subject matter is often dark and brutal. There’s a lot of presumably genuine emotion in it, as the author herself was a survivor who journeyed back to Cambodia in hopes of learning about her father’s fate. The writing style is fluid and easy to read, though I’d call it “wordy” more than “lyrical”; there was nothing particularly arresting to me about the use of language, but it’s certainly contemplative, with many passages embroidering on the characters’ thoughts, emotions, ideas, and sensations. While there isn’t a lot going on in the present-day plot, the story still manages to be engaging and vivid. I wouldn’t recommend this book on its literary merits, but as a deeply-felt novel by a genocide survivor, it’s worth a read for those interested in the places and issues addressed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andy Lillich

    I think my response to this novel may be skewed by the fact that it is the FITH NOVEL IN A ROW about War that I have read - and I rarely read move than two or three of them in a year! Still, other than a few problems with pacing (as others, I believe, have mentioned) I found this a beautifully written and detailed visit to the recovering country of Cambodia, a place dearly loved, I would have to say, by its author. The moral complexities that the brutal events of war are also explored in the cha I think my response to this novel may be skewed by the fact that it is the FITH NOVEL IN A ROW about War that I have read - and I rarely read move than two or three of them in a year! Still, other than a few problems with pacing (as others, I believe, have mentioned) I found this a beautifully written and detailed visit to the recovering country of Cambodia, a place dearly loved, I would have to say, by its author. The moral complexities that the brutal events of war are also explored in the character of the Old Musician- most effectively, I must say. This is a beautiful book that will teach an American reader a lot about the people, landscape, culture and history of Cambodia. It deserves to be read. But - Take my advice and do not EVER read as many as five novels of war in a row!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kelsi H

    Please read all of my reviews at http://ultraviolentlit.blogspot.ca! Music of the Ghosts is Ratner’s second novel – her first was the semi-autobiographical work, In the Shadow of the Banyan. This one is populated with fully fictional characters, but based once again in the horrific reality of the Khmer Rouge regime. While Banyan is a story of one family’s survival of the Cambodian genocide, Music of the Ghosts shows us how the survivors struggle to move forward in the aftermath of war. Suteera was a young girl when she es Please read all of my reviews at http://ultraviolentlit.blogspot.ca! Music of the Ghosts is Ratner’s second novel – her first was the semi-autobiographical work, In the Shadow of the Banyan. This one is populated with fully fictional characters, but based once again in the horrific reality of the Khmer Rouge regime. While Banyan is a story of one family’s survival of the Cambodian genocide, Music of the Ghosts shows us how the survivors struggle to move forward in the aftermath of war. Suteera was a young girl when she escaped from Cambodia with her aunt – they crossed the border into Vietnam with the help of a selfless soldier who likely died on his next rescue mission. Teera and her aunt Amara were the only survivors from their family – her father went missing first, and others died along the journey to the border. Amara and Teera forged a new life in Minnesota, but when Amara receives a diagnosis of rapidly advancing cancer twenty-five years later, she asks her niece to return her ashes to the family’s temple in Phnom Penh. When Teera writes to the Wat Nagara temple to tell them of her aunt’s request, she receives a letter back from a man known as the Old Musician. He claims to have information about the end of her father’s life in one of Pol Pot’s prisons, as well as possession of several of Teera’s father’s traditional Cambodian instruments. The Old Musician carries a vast amount of guilt over his role in the genocide, and he has banished himself to the temple, where he plays ceremonial music to earn his keep. He is anxious to see Teera, yet he dreads her reaction to his story, which also includes his lifelong love for her mother. Twenty-five years after her escape, Teera returns to Cambodia to find a nation in turmoil. Former enemies live side by side as they attempt to reconcile the horrific violence of the past with the desire to mend their country and move forward. Teera meets a young doctor, Narunn, who also lost his entire family during the war – mistrustful at first, Teera is eventually able to face Narunn with an open heart as they heal from the past and forge a new path forward. Ratner writes about the unbelievable loss and horrors of the war in lyrical prose, beautiful for its stark emotion. The future of Teera and Narunn is continually contrasted with the Old Musician’s flashbacks of his past – he and Teera’s parents, like many others, initially embraced the Khmer Rouge promise of independent democracy, only to watch in horror as the regime corrupted itself. Compared with Ratner’s first novel, I found the adult perspective in this one to lend itself to a more complex, stronger story. With the analyses of Teera and the Old Musician, I felt like I learned much more history from this novel – from the French colonization of Cambodia, to the American bombings and the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Lesser known (at least to me) than the history of Vietnam, Cambodia followed a similar trajectory into war. At the end of the story, the victims of the Khmer Rouge still await the tribunal that will punish those responsible for crimes of war. The Cambodian people, with Teera and Narunn as their fictional representatives, continue to face the ghosts of the past in order to heal and rebuild. The characters sometimes became overly allegorical, as a vessel for Ratner’s message, but they were strong enough that they still felt completely real and necessary in telling this story. I received this book from Touchstone Books in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This is one melancholy book, as it would have to be. Almost 40 years have passed since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Teera, who escaped with her aunt to the U.S. as a child, now returns to Cambodia, haunted by her past and struggling with grief after her aunt's death. A man called The Old Musician claims to have several instruments of her father's, and wants to return them. The novel weaves between their perspectives as both grapple with the past while trying to find hope a This is one melancholy book, as it would have to be. Almost 40 years have passed since the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Teera, who escaped with her aunt to the U.S. as a child, now returns to Cambodia, haunted by her past and struggling with grief after her aunt's death. A man called The Old Musician claims to have several instruments of her father's, and wants to return them. The novel weaves between their perspectives as both grapple with the past while trying to find hope and meaning in the present. While this is a melancholy novel, it's not a hopeless one. In her afterward, Ratner says that if In the Shadow of the Banyan is a story of survival, than this is a story of surviving. I did enjoy In the Shadow of the Banyan more because of how it weaved mythology into the narrative, but Music of the Ghosts is a strong follow up, and many will enjoy it more than her first. Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3.5/5

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily Goenner

    This lyrical novel took me forever to read both because other books stepped in and because it was a slow read. Ratner's prose demanded I slow down, read at a leisurely pace to savor the beautiful sentences describing people, places and emotions. Moving between various characters' pasts and their presents, the story explores the depths of hurt, guilt, loss and love people live with after tragedy, loss, unbearable pain. It was painful to read at times and the healing at the end came slowly, gently This lyrical novel took me forever to read both because other books stepped in and because it was a slow read. Ratner's prose demanded I slow down, read at a leisurely pace to savor the beautiful sentences describing people, places and emotions. Moving between various characters' pasts and their presents, the story explores the depths of hurt, guilt, loss and love people live with after tragedy, loss, unbearable pain. It was painful to read at times and the healing at the end came slowly, gently. Ratner writes with beauty and depth about complex human experiences.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jenna (Falling Letters)

    Review originally published 18 April 2017 at Falling Letters. I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Vaddey Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime of 1970s Cambodia, has penned an extraordinary tale in Music of the Ghosts. She writes with grace about “questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness, and justice in the more everyday settings in which survivors find themselves” (from the afterword). In exploring such questions, Teera, the Old Musici Review originally published 18 April 2017 at Falling Letters. I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Vaddey Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime of 1970s Cambodia, has penned an extraordinary tale in Music of the Ghosts. She writes with grace about “questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness, and justice in the more everyday settings in which survivors find themselves” (from the afterword). In exploring such questions, Teera, the Old Musician, and young doctor Narunn reflect on personal identity in the face of immeasurable loss. They have been shaped by survival, when so many of those whom they loved did not survive. Music of the Ghosts is a moving tale of resilience and reconciliation. I have not read Ratner’s first book, In the Shade of the Banyan Tree, but I am certain this book must be a worthy successor. The first aspect of this book that struck me was the vivid prose. Ratner writes with a particular cadence that soothed me from the beginning, despite the subject matter. She does an excellent job at setting a scene. One small scene in particular stood out to me. She described two young monks practicing English at a temple, with a storm approaching. I could hear the sounds she described – rarely do I find prose that successfully reaches beyond the visual to the auditory for me. The characters are what really gives life to the prose. I found Music of the Ghosts to be a deeply powerful and moving tale. Teera in particular tugged at my heartstrings and brought a few tears to my eyes. She felt like a real woman to me, not a stone cold caricature of a ‘strong’ one. I adored Narunn, a sincere man trying to do the best with what he has. These characters will draw out your compassion. Teera’s dealing with the complexities of survivor’s guilt moved me. In one scene, she wants to stop her car and give money to numerous beggars on the street, in a location so far from anything she can’t imagine how they’re surviving out there. I felt as Teera did in this moment – how can I have so much when others have so little? The character’s past connections to the Khmer Rouge (as either perpetrators or victims) demonstrate how good and evil cannot be simplified to black and white. The lines between victim and perpetrator can blur. A person can easily shift from being one to the other. Partway through chapter three, I already found the story to be very intense in this manner. Later on in the book, I had a moment of, “Imagine if everyone listened.” What if we listened to voices other than our own? If everyone heard the voices that are too often silenced or ignored? Reading a good story, like this one, can so easily teach empathy to an open mind. Through reading, we can learn about what we didn’t know we didn’t know. This concept, I think, is part of the reason why reading own voices is so important. I have one mild criticism of the book. The story feels a bit dry at times. I wondered when Teera’s story would pick up again. I set the book aside for a few days, not feeling any rush to finish. But the haunting tale pulled me back as I wondered what the Old Musician would reveal to Teera. The Bottom Line: On her website, Ratner notes that Music of the Ghosts address universally significant questions such as, “How do we account for the crimes we have committed knowingly, and for the suffering we contribute to perhaps without knowing? What does it take to atone? What is possible to forgive?” Music of the Ghosts clear and emotional take on these questions make it a read worth your time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    In a continuous effort to read internationally this fit the bill. A book about Cambodia by a Cambodian American author. In retrospect, I probably should have read the author's debut instead, a semi autobiographical tale of her and her mother's survival of the Khmer Rouge regime. It seems closer in line with the sort of story I'd be into. In this book she revisits similar themes, namely the horrors of the aforementioned Khmer Rouge regime, which, of course, was horrific enough to merit any number In a continuous effort to read internationally this fit the bill. A book about Cambodia by a Cambodian American author. In retrospect, I probably should have read the author's debut instead, a semi autobiographical tale of her and her mother's survival of the Khmer Rouge regime. It seems closer in line with the sort of story I'd be into. In this book she revisits similar themes, namely the horrors of the aforementioned Khmer Rouge regime, which, of course, was horrific enough to merit any number of stories. I knew about it, but in fairly vague terms...another strikingly botched attempt at communism, holocaust, etc. This book has educated me considerably on the hows and whys, including the US involvement, and the subsequent ramifications and repercussions for modern day Cambodia. Much like with any sort of civil war, the lines between the right and wrong can and did get pretty blurry at times, resulting in a country where victims must live side by side with their tormentors and so on. This is a story of survivors, the protagonist, who fled the country as a refugee, before it became such a dirty hated word, and settled in the US, only to return back to her native land decades later to find out what happened to her father and meet those who stayed behind, trying to make it in a war ravaged country. The author's affection and compassion for her characters is evident in every chapter, every word. It is, after all, a subject so near and dear to her heart. And her writing has a sort of poetic beauty to it, juxtaposed with the horrors and atrocities she describes, it works to a great effect. Can't say I loved the book, though. Liked it, appreciated it, but there was a sort of emotional disconnect owning either to my mood or to the language, which lovely as it was, was also over descriptive and too heavily narrated at times. The alternating timelines, integral as they were for the plot, distracted too with their suddenness. It's a very heavy read as one might expect from a story about Cambodia, so prepare for bleakness, though somehow infused with a sort of optimism and hope and light, which frankly I'm not sure how one finds in a country with such tragic history occurring so recently, but it's there and, if it's reflective of the actual attitudes of the Khmer and not just visitors, more power to them. Overall, this was very enlightening, albeit somewhat plodding read. The author's talent is evident and she conveyed the story with great empathy, finding humanity and kindness in the unlikeliest places, showcasing the striking resilience of spirit. For any student of world history specializing in the particularly ugly sides of it, this is a must. Thanks Netgalley.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    This is the authors second book, the first being: In The Shadow of the Banyan, about her own escape from the atrocities of the war in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge Regime. Music of the Ghost is a novel which takes place in Cambodia before, during and after the Khmer Rouge regime, and is about the lives of certain characters, in present day and the aftermath of what happened to them and how they are dealing with their own guilt, sorrow, remembrances and a general longing to have that part of th This is the authors second book, the first being: In The Shadow of the Banyan, about her own escape from the atrocities of the war in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge Regime. Music of the Ghost is a novel which takes place in Cambodia before, during and after the Khmer Rouge regime, and is about the lives of certain characters, in present day and the aftermath of what happened to them and how they are dealing with their own guilt, sorrow, remembrances and a general longing to have that part of their lives make a bit of sense. Teera, who made it out of Cambodia, with her aunt as a child to the USA, has come back to Cambodia for answers. Teera received a message from a person known as “The Old Magician” who claims to have known her father, in prison and has something for her. The Old Musician, not only knew her father but her mother as well. Another main character is a young Dr., Narunn who has been living at the monastery, where the Old Magician, is living and helps Terra over come a lot of her fears and trust issues and brings her the love and security she has wanted. This is a wonderful story of renewal and appreciation for ones life and country. Beautifully written, with detailed history of what went on in Cambodia, for so many long years. I would like to thank NetGalley and Touchstone for the ARC of this book. I cannot wait to read a new book by this author.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Terralyn Brown Barfield

    4 1/2 stars. Beautifully written. Very inciteful reguarding Cambodian 20th century political/sociological history while tackling the human condition during war, rebellion and refugee/immigration realities. This is a must-read for Americans who lived through the Vietnam Nam war era but have a very sketchy idea of how the Cambodians were fairing during this time and years afterward. Most telling for me is how one can get involved in a cause for altruistic reasons and then find oneself ensnared in 4 1/2 stars. Beautifully written. Very inciteful reguarding Cambodian 20th century political/sociological history while tackling the human condition during war, rebellion and refugee/immigration realities. This is a must-read for Americans who lived through the Vietnam Nam war era but have a very sketchy idea of how the Cambodians were fairing during this time and years afterward. Most telling for me is how one can get involved in a cause for altruistic reasons and then find oneself ensnared in actions that one had not imagined, nor even thought possible for one human being to do to another ,when joining said movement with no way of escaping participation without being tortured and eventually begging for death.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    As Americans, we know quite a bit about the Vietnam War and the destruction we Americans unleashed on that nation. But I have the feeling that most Americans couldn't even point out Cambodia on a map, let alone know about the atrocities that were happening there, both internally and by the US, at the same time. Being an absolute sponge when it comes to information, I had heard both of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, and I knew both were quite terrible. This book definitely brings all of thos As Americans, we know quite a bit about the Vietnam War and the destruction we Americans unleashed on that nation. But I have the feeling that most Americans couldn't even point out Cambodia on a map, let alone know about the atrocities that were happening there, both internally and by the US, at the same time. Being an absolute sponge when it comes to information, I had heard both of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, and I knew both were quite terrible. This book definitely brings all of those horrors to light, and the devastation felt by the survivors is nearly indescribable. For this reason, I would hope that people would read this book if for no other reason than to educate themselves about this subject. Ratner's writing is absolutely beautiful. Once I really got into the flow of her writing, I felt as though I were carried away by her words. The only problem is, this is a very, very slow-moving book, and it's very, very introspective. I wouldn't mind that so much if there were a little more action to carry it forward. I realize that Ratner is trying to show how Teera has come to Cambodia just to see if she can reconnect with her homeland, and slowly becomes more and more integrated with it while also coming to terms with the horrors that she and her country endured under the Khmer Rouge, but at the same time, Ratner spends a whole lot of time in the heads of both Teera and the Old Musician. I would prefer a bit tighter of a story that didn't meander quite as much through the heads of those two main characters. This is definitely a beautifully written book. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in this part of the world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    glenn boyes

    I don't know the last time a read a book so slowly, so thoroughly and not wanting it to ever end. This book is amazing!!! I can't say enough about it. As a "follow-up" to Vaddey's first novel, "In the Shadow of the Banyan" (a story of survival in the Khmer Rouge genocide), "Music of the Ghosts" is a story of survivors. It explores the questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness and justice in present day situations where the characters find themselves face-to-face encountering the past. I don't know the last time a read a book so slowly, so thoroughly and not wanting it to ever end. This book is amazing!!! I can't say enough about it. As a "follow-up" to Vaddey's first novel, "In the Shadow of the Banyan" (a story of survival in the Khmer Rouge genocide), "Music of the Ghosts" is a story of survivors. It explores the questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness and justice in present day situations where the characters find themselves face-to-face encountering the past. Vaddey Ratner has become one of my favourity authors, and I've enjoy the little bit of conversation that we have had with each other. Both books have easily replaced others in my top books ever.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Geri

    Although it is slow at times, I loved this book. It is beautifully written. Ratner knows how to use words to reach deep inside the heart and evoke strong emotion. Because I lived in Cambodia for 18 months, this book felt like a homecoming to me. The Khmae language, the smells, the sights, the sounds , the tastes, the culture...it all came flooding back and the 7 years that have passed since our return melted away with the words on theses pages. I loved my journey back to my adopted home This boo Although it is slow at times, I loved this book. It is beautifully written. Ratner knows how to use words to reach deep inside the heart and evoke strong emotion. Because I lived in Cambodia for 18 months, this book felt like a homecoming to me. The Khmae language, the smells, the sights, the sounds , the tastes, the culture...it all came flooding back and the 7 years that have passed since our return melted away with the words on theses pages. I loved my journey back to my adopted home This book is true to Srok Khmae.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    They say you should never judge a book by its cover (or its title, for that matter), but that’s exactly what I did when I stumbled across Vaddey Ratner’s Music of the Ghosts at a book store one year ago. I first chose Music of the Ghosts precisely because of its intriguing title and cover. I love anything related to music, but I’ve also always been drawn to ghosts – whether in a horror setting or something more like a forgotten dream. The soft, foggy cover suggested the latter, while its bright They say you should never judge a book by its cover (or its title, for that matter), but that’s exactly what I did when I stumbled across Vaddey Ratner’s Music of the Ghosts at a book store one year ago. I first chose Music of the Ghosts precisely because of its intriguing title and cover. I love anything related to music, but I’ve also always been drawn to ghosts – whether in a horror setting or something more like a forgotten dream. The soft, foggy cover suggested the latter, while its bright hues of purple and orange inspired something magical. As I began reading Music of the Ghosts, it quickly become evident that my judgment had been mostly accurate – though it missed the underlying sorrow that defines the novel. The story follows two main characters with parallel stories unraveling, revealing just how similar their histories are. At the age of 13, Suteera and her aunt Amara escaped their home country, Cambodia, during its horrific Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. After losing everything to war and famine, they rebuilt their lives in America. Now 37 years old, Suteera (now going by Teera) is returning to Cambodia for the first time. A mysterious man known only as the Old Musician has some instruments for her, and may know something about what happened to her father all those years ago. Over the course of the novel, both Teera’s and the Old Musician’s stories unfold, illuminating the love, pain, and terror that defined their lives in Cambodia up until the Khmer Rouge regime fell. Their histories cross and bend, strikingly similar in parts, as we discover what happened to the Old Musician’s daughter and what fate befell Teera’s father. The story is moving and tragic, and at times painful to get through. Even as we get to know the main characters’ pasts, Music of the Ghosts is a story about the country and people of Cambodia, and it offers up snapshots of the various ways the survivors have rebuilt their lives, continued to suffer, and found hope for a better future. The book loses a bit of its power during the Second Movement, sometimes straying too far away from the main plot. An unexpected romance blossoms too quickly, causing the story to meander a bit. But the novel eventually regains focus for its powerful end. One of my favorite things about reading books set in different countries and different times is the chance to learn about another culture, another history. It’s an opportunity to peek inside a new set of experiences and begin to understand another perspective and past. I admit, I knew nothing about Cambodia and its turbulent history prior to reading Music of the Ghosts. This novel illuminates this part of its history with impressive detail and scope, and anyone who wants to understand more about Cambodia and the country’s recent past will gain a lot from reading Music of the Ghosts. Beyond the story and its themes, one additional aspect of Music of the Ghosts that really struck me was its language. From the very first pages, Music of the Ghosts captures you with the beauty of its prose. The writing style is poetic, lyrical, painting images with the deft choice and arrangement of its words. It’s delicate, yet its cadence pulls you ever farther into its dreamy yet all-too-vivid landscape. As I read the first several chapters, the simple yet evocative language impressed me, so much so that I kept raving to my husband about his need to read this book, if only to marvel at its astounding locution. Music of the Ghosts is a moving, beautiful, and tragic book. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth☮

    I loved Ratner's first novel In the Shadow of the Banyan and was so excited to read this one as I know Ratner creates scenery and characters that are descriptive and evocative. Here, we have a woman, Teera, that fled Cambodia during the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge when she was just a child. She returns to her homeland over twenty years later to pay honor to her aunt who has died. At the temple where her family is given homage, a man we know as the Old Musician invites Teera to visit I loved Ratner's first novel In the Shadow of the Banyan and was so excited to read this one as I know Ratner creates scenery and characters that are descriptive and evocative. Here, we have a woman, Teera, that fled Cambodia during the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge when she was just a child. She returns to her homeland over twenty years later to pay honor to her aunt who has died. At the temple where her family is given homage, a man we know as the Old Musician invites Teera to visit him as he has instruments that belonged to her father and he wants to give them to Teera. What unfolds is Teera's coming to terms with the paradoxes that make up her homeland. She finds love with a young doctor and she prepares to understand the full story of her family. For me, the story stalled when it went back in time trying to create the scenes from the past and connect them to the present. I liked the story of Teera's journey and I found the Old Musician an interesting character, but his story doesn't feel to merge with Teera's in a natural way. I will definitely continue seeking Ratner's books as she is a gifted writer. Even something that has three stars still gave me several quotes to write down in my notebook.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    3.5 stars. I found the writing to be tedious at times. Although, I did learn much about Cambodian history that I did not know. Took me too long to finally finish it and then felt the story was left at loose ends.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jeffers

    I hate to give a negative review of a book that highlights a difficult topic that's often forgotten about when it comes to modern storytelling, so please don't think of three stars as a "bad" review because it's not a bad book. Vaddey Ratner tells the story of a Cambodian refugee thoughtfully and beautifully. I just found the pacing of the story a bit slow and struggled to stay invested in what was happening.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joy Clark

    That was an excruciatingly beautiful book. And by excruciating I mean, “Rip your heart out, remember why you hate most of humanity, and then remind you that sometimes good things do happen”. That about sums it up. Also, why does it feel like the entire Khmer Rouge timeline was left out of our history books? Could it have something to do with the American bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War? Or is it just our general attitude of turning a blind eye to injustices in the non-Western world? W That was an excruciatingly beautiful book. And by excruciating I mean, “Rip your heart out, remember why you hate most of humanity, and then remind you that sometimes good things do happen”. That about sums it up. Also, why does it feel like the entire Khmer Rouge timeline was left out of our history books? Could it have something to do with the American bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War? Or is it just our general attitude of turning a blind eye to injustices in the non-Western world? Wow, it took me less than a paragraph to get on a politic soapbox – new personal record!! In all seriousness, there are places in this book that remind you the depths of depravity to which humans (and I use that term loosely here) can reach. Violence in books is not normally difficult for me, but I really had a hard time in places here. Try as I might, and even with all my psych training, I cannot understand how humans can sink to such lows. It's like Milgram on steroids with a million other not-so-good social psychology concepts I can't come up with right now. Which is to say - people suck. But not always! The other side of this book explores the determination of humans, the will to live, selflessness, guilt, fortitude, and courage that makes up the better side of our species. The language is beautiful, but almost TOO earnest at times, which is why I didn't give this one 5 stars. I love lyricism, but I'm also of the belief that it can be overdone. Sometimes things should just be stated, not made pretty for the sake of literature. Others have commented on the book's structure and pacing. I think this is basically the same issue. The pacing was much too slow in places because of the lyricism. I also had a few issues with some of the characters' actions. I won't go into details for the sake of spoilers, but as a mother, Channara's ultimate action confused and angered me. Otherwise, this is an amazing work, and it shouldn't be passed up just because it might get a bit slow in places. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC through NetGalley.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    I would rate this between a 4 to 4.5. I received this from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review. A beautifully written but disturbing tale of life and survival during the Khymer Rouge rampage in Cambodia. I absolutely loved Ms. Ratner's first novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, a novel based on her and her family's harrowing experiences during the Khymer Rouge time. I really liked this one, too,but did find it difficult to get through. It is not a page turner as it involves some very distur I would rate this between a 4 to 4.5. I received this from NetGalley in exchange for a honest review. A beautifully written but disturbing tale of life and survival during the Khymer Rouge rampage in Cambodia. I absolutely loved Ms. Ratner's first novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, a novel based on her and her family's harrowing experiences during the Khymer Rouge time. I really liked this one, too,but did find it difficult to get through. It is not a page turner as it involves some very disturbing experiences suffered by so many during those horrible years and the overall debilitating and dehumanizing impact on the Cambodian people. It was harder for me to follow this plot than I did in her first novel but eventually it did come together. In some parts, it did seem a bit contrived as to the entanglements of some of the characters, and how they got together, but notwithstanding, you could feel the dehumanization and painful experiences of many of the characters. Ms. Ratner's writing made you feel right in the midst of all of this. Her prose style, although covering a troubled time to say the least, is like reading a beautifully written poem. Almost lyrical. Ms Ratner does an incredibly realistic job in providing a real life glimpse into the horrible suffering by many, largely the intelligentsia, but also people from all economic levels. What some thought would be an idealistic approach to a revolution turned into their worst nightmare where no one could trust anyone. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Ratner soon after she wrote her first book when she came to our book group. She is totally mesmerizing, articulate and passionate about her story and her country despite all the suffering she has endured in her life, with family loss and physical impairment just to mention a few. A must read on the historical side but also to be witness to such beautiful writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Booklover, Indianapolis

    (Dec) I do not usually read a book for the writing - I enjoy books with good plot, enjoyable characters, humor, and dialogue. This book really didn't have any of this, yet I found it a beautifully written book. The writing was lyrical and evocative, and even though there was some really hideous descriptions of torture towards the end, there was a peacefulness about the book that worked for me. Terra is a Cambodian refugee who has lived most of her life in Minnesota. After her beloved aunt (only (Dec) I do not usually read a book for the writing - I enjoy books with good plot, enjoyable characters, humor, and dialogue. This book really didn't have any of this, yet I found it a beautifully written book. The writing was lyrical and evocative, and even though there was some really hideous descriptions of torture towards the end, there was a peacefulness about the book that worked for me. Terra is a Cambodian refugee who has lived most of her life in Minnesota. After her beloved aunt (only surviving family member) dies, she contacts the temple in Cambodia where her aunt sent money to let them know. She gets a letter from an old musician who lives at the temple, saying he knew her father and had some instruments that belonged to him. Terra flies to Cambodia to meet him. The book gives background to the old musician, Terra's parents and childhood, and how their pasts were intertwined. I don't know much about the reign of the Kmer Rouge, but learned some in this book (awful, brutal). However, even with the brutality of the prisons described, the book was still a lovely book that is worth reading.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Wharton

    Through the story of a Killing Fields survivor’s return to Cambodia from America in 2003 to search for signs and memories of lost family, this impressive novel captures and fully communicates the anguish, fear, and sadness of the country’s and its people’s experience of revolution, war, and Khmer Rouge terror. At the same time, the intertwining in the plot of characters’ past histories and present situations brings out powerful forces of hope, love, redemption, and personal and cultural resilien Through the story of a Killing Fields survivor’s return to Cambodia from America in 2003 to search for signs and memories of lost family, this impressive novel captures and fully communicates the anguish, fear, and sadness of the country’s and its people’s experience of revolution, war, and Khmer Rouge terror. At the same time, the intertwining in the plot of characters’ past histories and present situations brings out powerful forces of hope, love, redemption, and personal and cultural resilience and survival. It is comprehensive and informative of the total national historical and cultural experience (though sometimes stretching a bit to be all inclusive), while insightful in penetrating detail into the lives of those who survived and those who didn’t (and why and how). Excellent writing on all fronts —characters, plot, a narrative structure that goes back and forth across time and well-depicted settings, stylistically at ease across physical, intellectual, and emotional subjects.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    Beautiful and haunting. The novel is divided into three parts -- the first part is a little slow as you get to know the characters but then you fall for Suteera and her companions in Cambodia. Ratner does an excellent job weaving the history of Cambodia's bloody years of American intervention and internal political war with the actual human toll that impacted every single person across the country. This impact is long-lasting and Music of the Ghosts demonstrates how this echoes for both the refu Beautiful and haunting. The novel is divided into three parts -- the first part is a little slow as you get to know the characters but then you fall for Suteera and her companions in Cambodia. Ratner does an excellent job weaving the history of Cambodia's bloody years of American intervention and internal political war with the actual human toll that impacted every single person across the country. This impact is long-lasting and Music of the Ghosts demonstrates how this echoes for both the refugees that left and those who remained to try and rebuild.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dwayne Johnson

    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 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    This was pretty good, but not great for me. The story was certainly interesting, and I appreciated this look at the history of Cambodia. The characters were pretty well developed and the writing style was generally effective, although the tone was not consistent. As with many historical novels, this one suffered from the 'info-dump', where historical information was not integrated organically into the story, but instead sort of cut-and-pasted in randomly. There were lots of shifts of viewpoint a This was pretty good, but not great for me. The story was certainly interesting, and I appreciated this look at the history of Cambodia. The characters were pretty well developed and the writing style was generally effective, although the tone was not consistent. As with many historical novels, this one suffered from the 'info-dump', where historical information was not integrated organically into the story, but instead sort of cut-and-pasted in randomly. There were lots of shifts of viewpoint and time that were not always smoothly handled. Overall, although I think it could have been better written and organized, I don't regret reading this. I feel like I learned quite a bit and I felt engaged with the journeys of the characters.

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