Tenaciously melodic . . . a symphony’s elevating effect on emotion. Ratner stirs feeling—sorrow, sympathy, pleasure—through language so ethereal in the face of dislocation and loss . . . Music of the Ghosts has been fashioned by a writer scarred by war, a writer whose ability to discern the poetic even in brutal landscapes and histories may be the gift that helped her reassemble the fragments of a self and a life after such shattering suffering.
— New York Times
A sensitive, melancholy portrait of the inheritance of survival—the loss and pain as well as the healing . . . an affecting novel, filled with sorrow and a tender, poignant optimism.
— USA Today
Lush with tropical heat and heated emotions . . . impossible to put down.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Powerful . . . haunting, unforgettable.
— Booklist (starred review)
Vaddey Ratner’s new novel, Music of the Ghosts, is an extraordinary achievement. It is deeply haunting in its evocation of place, profound in the directness with which it confronts age old questions of guilt, regret, and loss, and staggeringly beautiful in its masterful lyricism. A book like this doesn’t come around very often. I hope everyone will read it.
— Kevin Powers, award-winning author of The Yellow Birds
The deeper I read into Music of the Ghosts, the more engrossed I became in the tangled skeins that define her characters’ lives, in the history that her fiction illuminates, in the perceptions that could break a reader’s heart . . . That’s the stuff of war, and Ratner does not hold back . . . But she is equally committed to revealing, for us, the endless ways that families can be forged and broken hearts held.
— Chicago Tribune
Music of the Ghosts is a moving and often gripping exploration of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime and its aftermath. Ratner relentlessly shows the devastating impact of traumatic history on families and the nation, but leaves us with a carefully measured hope for insight and renewal.
— Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer and Pulitzer Prize winner
Captivating . . . a tragic odyssey of love, loss, and forgiveness in the wake of unspeakable horrors . . . [Ratner] weaves a moving tale of hope and heartbreak that will accompany readers long after they finish the last page.
— Publishers Weekly

Music of the Ghosts

New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

Published April 2017

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of In the Shadow of the Banyan comes a novel about a young woman who returns to her homeland after receiving a letter from a mysterious man who claims to have known her father before he disappeared in the Cambodian holocaust.

Teera, a thirty-seven-year-old American, returns to Cambodia for the first time after her harrowing escape as a child refugee more than two decades earlier. She carries back with her the ashes of her recently deceased aunt and a letter from a stranger who claims he knew her father in Slak Daek, the notorious Pol Pot security prison where her father disappeared.

When she arrives, Teera finds a country of survivors, where perpetrators and victims of recent atrocities are finding a way to live side by side. She reacquaints herself with places that ignite long-buried memories, meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart to a new Cambodia, and prepares herself to learn her father’s fate from the author of the letter, known as the Old Musician. Now a half-blind elderly man who earns his keep by playing music at a temple, the Old Musician waits for Teera’s visit, anticipating the confession he must make. He remembers his love for her mother, his admiration for her father, and the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s promise of a democratic society, embarking on a journey that ended in the horror chamber only he survived. 

Who can we forgive? What is justice? How do we atone? Together Teera and the Old Musician confront the truth of their intertwined past, weaving a redemptive melody that will leave both transformed, and freeing Teera to find a new home and a new love in the places she least expects.

Ratner’s sophomore title should place her squarely alongside Yiyun Li, Khaled Hosseini, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writers who have miraculously rendered inhumanity into astonishingly redemptive literary testimony.
— Library Journal
Lyrical . . . beautiful and haunting . . . filled with truth both emotional and factual.
— Book Reporter
Vaddey Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, has not only created here an unforgettable vision of revolution and genocide, but also a moving portrayal of lives interwoven by loss, Buddhist wisdom and, most important of all, redemption. Music of the Ghosts is a powerful performance.
— Charles Johnson, author of The Way of the Writer and Middle Passage
Told with careful lyricism . . . Occasionally calling to mind Things Fall Apart, another novel about collapsed societies.
— BookPage
Music of the Ghosts is a novel of extraordinary humanity in the face of unforgivable culpability. Here, acts of friendship transform into acts of rebellion, and storytelling reveals not only the past, but this moment, when reconciliation and forgiveness are so desperately needed. Vaddey Ratner speaks to the choices confronting all of us, and she does so with compassion, forewarning and courageous wisdom.
— Madeleine Thien, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Now Available


In this short video, Vaddey Ratner discusses Music of the Ghosts, a love story for things lost and things restored, and a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

A powerful examination of the burdens of survival. Ratner writes with precision and lyricism about lives damaged in one of the darkest episodes in history. A timely, redemptive work.
— Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters and the Forgetting Tree
Lavish storytelling—complete with pure, honest language and lush, stunning description . . . A story that both captures and reveals the heart of its characters, Ratner’s latest is a beautiful gem of a read.
— RT Book Reviews
Themes of loss and hope, survivors and the metaphorical ghosts that follow them, crescendo into a rich finale celebrating the resilience of the human spirit and the permanence of love . . . Readers will shed happy and sad tears as they savor this reminder that regardless of past hurts, life is ours to live.
— Shelf Awareness
A poignant new novel focusing not on the horrors themselves (as was the focus of her fictional debut), but [on] the implications and stakes for survivors.
— Harper's Bazaar Online