Set Against The Backdrop Of The Sri Lankan Civil War, Ru Freeman S Epic Novel Explores The Lives Of The Diverse Families That Live On Sal Mal Lane And The Heartbreaking Ways This Once Harmonious Community Turns On One Another With The Country On The Brink Of WarOn The Day The Herath Family Moves In, Sal Mal Lane Is A Quiet Street, Disturbed Only By The Cries Of The Children Whose Triumphs And Tragedies Sustain The Families That Live There As Each Neighbour Adapts To The Newcomers In Different Ways, The Children Fill Their Days With Cricket Matches, Romantic Crushes, And Small RivalriesBut When The Tides Of Civil War Begin To Turn Towards The Neighbourhood, Their Differences Ignite In Ways No One Could Have Imagined As The Stability Of Their Neighborhood Is Threatened By Clashing Political Beliefs And Prejudices, The Children Of The Community Are Forced To Watch Their Parents And Friends Turn Against One Another Seen Through The Children S Eyes, The Events On Sal Mal Lane Come To Mirror The Course Of Modern Sri Lanka At Its Most Violent And VolatileA Powerful, Evocative Work, On Sal Mal Lane Masterfully Illuminates The Origins Of This War And Explores The Lengths Family Will Go To Protect One Another This novel is set in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 1983, a time of civil unrest and revolution on this island nation At the center of Freeman s tale is the Herath family and their neighbors on a short street, Sal Mal Lane, in the nation s capitol Colombo In telling their story, Freeman is able to show on multiple levels the growth of societal dischord in Sri Lanka Much of the book concerns the children of Sal Mal Lane and their relationships with one another Their interactions can be distilled into a series of parables for the adult reader to ponder The overall message seems to be that both good and evil are a part of our world and each will show itself over time This quote from an adult neighbor talking to Nihil, one of the Herath children, speaks to this point, People do not go to war, Nihil, they carry war inside them Either they have war within them or they don t have it The thing to think about is do you and I have war inside us This is a book to savor in small sips, like a fine wine The reader needs to go slowly so as not to miss too many of the life lessons that Freeman has provided. On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman is both stunningly beautiful and at the same time deeply sad, but above all takes the reader to places most have not been and this reader knew little about, life leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war Freeman s writing is beautiful, almost poetic at times, even with such a heavy topic, the characters will imprint themselves on the reader and Freeman easily transport the reader back in time to Sri Lanka allowing the reader to view life through several well rounded, flawed, and exceedingly realistic characters There are times this book is painful to read and yet Freeman s prose carries the reader through I cannot praise On Sal Mal Lane enough and it is my hope all readers will pick up a copy and learn about the history and culture of Sri Lanka. Sal Mal Lane is a dead end street in the capitol of Sri Lanka On that street live people of different religions and ethnicities Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Lansis So far, on the surface they get along but a storm is brewing in the country and, with authorial intrusion, we know that things, will turn violent with time.The children of Sal Mal Lane are the focus of this delightful novel The Heruth children star in this book There is Rashmi who is perfect in her studies and a perfectionist in every way Devi has finally attained good grades after a time of rebellion and opposition She is innocent, spoiled, impetuous, loving, a free spirit, vulnerable Nihil can see words forward and backwards and he is prescient of Devi s future Suren is a musical prodigy who wants to make his life in music despite his parents wanting him to become an engineer.On the outskirts of the central characters are Sonna, a bad boy Raju, a simple man the twins who are impoverished and other children who live on the lane.The Herath parents are quite political and stand to the left of center Mr Heruth has been involved in a strike that has gone awry with failure but he keeps fighting for the Tamil minority As he fights, the country goes and towards the Sinhalese with everything written in their language or English Around the city, the rumors continued Rumor had it that the Tamil language would soon be banned altogether, that Tamil shopkeepers were erasing the Tamil from their signs, that Tamil politicians addressed everybody in English and did so out of fear The children will find themselves looking into a world they don t understand, one that is filled with discord, pain and uprising I found out a lot about Sri Lanka, a country that was quite foreign to me Ru Freeman does a wonderful job of educating the reader and her writing is very interesting, coming from childrens perspectives as it does I recommend this book for people who enjoy international literature. 4.5 5I m not nearly as picky about buying books by women of color as I am about nearly every other demographic Indeed, I believe I paid full bookstore price for this particular copy, purchased alongside The Moor s Account that may have also not even been on my TBR before it found its way onto my physical shelves It s not as if I ve never been disappointed by such whimsical, WOC oriented purchases, but that my past reading is still so woefully lacking in such voices that they deserve all the chances that they can get, period It s what lead to this work, not on any of my GR friend s shelves, not on any famous lists or name drops, crossing my path and discovered to be lovely, lovely enough that I wouldn t mind a sequel, or a trilogy, or time spent in the maturation of a neighborhood in a country I had never, to this point, read a book credibly set within I likely won t be paying full price for another work of Freeman s unless the book buying itch becomes exceedingly bad, but I will be keeping an eye out for others The ending was a tad too drenched in pathos to make the reading of the work necessary, but it s close enough for me to wish would take it on for a casual stroll For what was the worth of being a genius if choice was denied to him After all, fools were always told what they should do and they were foolish because they obeyed. The call of an unknown literary place setting, plus the author s credibility in rendering said setting, plus admittedly the pleasing cover art, all worked towards my choosing for purchase this book for the full jacket price Freeman is an author oft given to soft touches of omniscient foreshadowing, which made for a beautifully haunting opening of overarching grace but admittedly was laid on a little too thick at times, especially during the penultimate forty or so pages Despite this, there is real beauty and real rendering of the complicate politics of identity and economics, and the kindness of characters just makes their ingrained stigmatization of one another all the harder to bear as the stereotypes burgeon and the hatreds foment Long as this book is, it wasn t long enough to carry all of the cast s dramas from a satisfying beginning to a satisfying end, especially in the case of the murder suicide that occurs just before the pages begin and that of all the children left behind to become adults once the pages are done As I stated earlier, I would be happy to read a sequel, but other works by Freeman are than welcome to cross my path The tone she evokes of coming together and, importantly, doing the painful work of coming together that is necessary in these blighted times of ours, and while the omniscient point of view isn t as vital, it s pleasing to see someone harken back to a style of Mary Ann Evans, one that isn t afraid to step into the mind of various others and lay bare, with sympathy as well as truth, all that lays within He was no longer the good boy who did what was expected, he was the boy who knew the power of promise and whom he could hold hostage by the mere threat of refusing to live up to it. I have to find books like this one in the future, if for nothing than to credibly fill in the blanks of my literary landscape I often criticize the overuse of pathos, but it is a sin only when it dehumanizes for the sake of its constructed tragedy or bliss, and OSML does nothing of the sort, or does so little that I d need a history on Tamil Sinhalese Sri Lanka to find it I would be a task that I would willingly undertake, as the current landscape of cynicism and copied emotional displays makes it near impossible to cultivate a generation with critical values that knows the difference between the murder and the murdered and when it spirals out into a revenge tragedy that will either end in compassion or the void I don t know what awaits the coming years, for the end of 2016 marked a reign of stagnation on the edge of a cliff that persists to this day, and the molasses of distraction threatens to succeed in luring me away to attend to trivialities while we all finally tumble off Dark thoughts to associate with such a triumph of contemporary literature, but one cannot appreciate the wholesome without having experienced something of the banality of evil And in those moments he would feel that he was neither full of war nor full of peace, he was simply lost. God was not responsible for what came to pass People said it was karma, punishment in this life for past sins, fate People said that no beauty was permitted in the world without some accompanying darkness to balance it out, and surely these children were beautiful But what people said was unimportant what befell them befell all of us 3.5 starsSal Mal Lane is a cul de sac neigbourhood in Sri Lanka A community of neighbours of varying classes, caste and ethnicities, all appear to live in harmony When the Herath family move in, they cause quite an uproar Being viewed as friends by some and as enemies by others, the Herath family settles in As the children of Sal Mal Lane play music, cricket and interact, Civil War looms, slowly fracturing the seemingly peaceful neighbourhood This is another tough book to rate for me I wanted so badly to love this book and while there are many great and beautiful elements in this narrative, as I whole, I found it to be too much Sal Mal Lane is a neigbourhood of Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Lansis, all seemingly living peacefully side by side The arrival of the Herath family seems to upset this balance Of different castes, ethnicities and economic situations, the children of all the families are the focus As they get interact and get along or not get along , they bridge some some gaps and create others Tensions are ever present and only rise when war slowly looms, forcing the people in this community to become vigilant and choose sides First off, the prose is just magnificent and almost poetic and the concept is fantastic Where I struggle is with the amount of characters and events I had difficult time keeping track of who belonged to which family and what caste class they were and why they did did not get long with a specific neighbour A basic knowledge of the Sri Lanka civil war is needed prior to reading this book which I did not have otherwise many events will not make any sense The plot moved at a too slow pace At times, reading this book felt like a chore Hardly the worst book I have read but one that I did not entrely love It was a we that the Silvas liked to imagine exited, if things came to that, though it could be argued that the very existance of the idea was proof that such a division into a we and a themwas not far from fact Without a doubt, the main theme of this book is unity and looking past our established divisions I love that Freeman focused on the children for their inherent innocence of in matters such as caste or race The final third of the book most strongly drove this point home and was by far the best part of the entire book The devastation and tragedy were tangible but so were the friendships forged through war I love the sentiment behind this book and would have rate it higher were it not for the above mentioned issues Still, I am glad to have read this book When it comes to humanity there should not be aweor athem , there should be anusDespitr my reservations, I would still recommend this book. I remember seeing a very favorable review in the NY Times for this novel, and having a smug moment in which I congratulated myself for being the kind of person who reads world literature, and put this on my reserve list at the library Then when it actually came, my reaction was like Oh This It seemed very daunting once it was in hand because I don t know anything about Sri Lanka, and besides, there was a new Patrick Ness coming out, and a new Gentlemen Bastards, so I had THINGS to do.It ended up being really great It reminded me a little of To Kill A Mockingbird, not in style or tone, but because of the device of framing social, cultural, and political issues with the goings on of a bunch of little kids In this case, the issues are all related to the conflicts between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the early 80s.Going into the book with zero knowledge about these events, I was worried it would be difficult to follow, but the book was impressively designed to keep the threads moving along in an easy way, especially for ignorant people such as me And it s a lot of complicated history and issues The other side of this coin is that some of the secondary characters feel a bit stock but I m not quite convinced that s a criticism because it felt like a deliberate choice on the part of the author to assist less familiar readers with staying engaged My personal strategy was to read about 1 3 of the book to get the general gist of what was going on, and then I took a break for some googling of the various historical incidents and political events being referenced Okay, strategy makes it sound like I did that on purpose, when it was like the timing worked out that way, but I would recommend it to anyone who would like an introduction or refresher on the issues surrounding the Sinhalese majority or the Tamil minority and then the religious minorities within each group of Sri Lanka Because so much of the book is spent with the various, somewhat dreamy, adventures of the children of the families who live on one small residential street, there was something about it that reminded me of The Penderwicks, had The Penderwicks been written for adults and set against a backdrop of race riots The writing here is lovely, and achieves that same effect of creating a children s world that feels both idyllic and realistic.I have one quibble, which is a tiny part of the book, and I realize it seems like the most complainy, nitpicky thing in the entire world, but for some reason it nagged at me a lot The events of the book are very clearly set in certain years they are labelled, that is how clear it is And one of the things the kids do is listen to pop music on the BBC Now, I realize the author is a young person, and I m sure all 80s music is the same to her, but there were a few specific songs mentioned that didn t come out until a few years later Maybe this wouldn t matter so much to me in a book where the point was to present the 80s in a general sense, but because the plot of this book is so closely tied to real life political events, the progression of the years in the lives of the kids seems important to me. This is a compelling and intimate story of neighbors on a small lane in a small town in Sri Lanka It s a mixed neighborhood with Tamil, Sinhalese Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim and Burgher families living side by side, gossiping, squabbling at times, watching their children interact and grow up The story runs from 1979 to 1983, as ethnic tensions in the country gradually enmesh them as events move toward ethnic strife, sudden communal violence and civil war.The book will require the reader s close attention While the human interactions are universal, the cultural references the author provides a small and handy glossary at the back need bearing in mind, and the cast of characters is fairly large their characters are vivid and varied enough so that they re hard to keep straight These are people the reader can care about, but the lane also seems to be a microcosm, a symbolic prelude, told in one lane, leading to twenty six years of civil war.Recommend. a sweet and bittersweet story a compelling read about the innocence of youth, with the backdrop of social unrest in Sri Lanka in the early 1980 s and its roots, yet again, in British imperialism and its impact on those children the author builds a multi layered scenario where various families on the street live and navigate their own and their neighbors ethnic and religious stakes I was awed by how seemingly simple and innocent passages set the stage for and depicted deeper and dangerous actions and feelings an ultimately satisfying read wow ps Sri Lanka s anti terrorism laws are a stark warning for the US read that, NSA. In Ru Freeman s On Sal Mal Lane, several families live on a quiet lane in Columbo in Sri Lanka in the years just before and during the political upheaval, riots and deaths of the early 1980s One family lacks rancor and is filled with music, sincerity, with hopes and dreams Anther family is fueled by anger and alcohol, with unspoken yearning.As these and other families who call Sal Mal Lane home celebrate their holidays, share food and games, and bring each other into their lives, missed opportunities as seemingly trivial as gifts of strawberry milk and chocolate become harbingers of heartbreak.The world of the quiet street changes with the arrival of the Herath family, which sings together gathered around the piano The music is an important unifying factor throughout the novel It draws people to the four children oldest son Suren who lives and breathes music, oldest daughter Rashmi who is the perfect child at school, son Nihil who adores cricket but not as much as he adores and worries about protecting the youngest, daughter Devi, a carefree, lively child.One of the beauties of this novel is that these children are genuinely dear souls Their mother is a teacher who has naturally high expectations Their father, a government worker, is akin to a less biting Mr Bennet who doesn t regret his marriage while hiding behind his newspapers Their neighbors, the Silvas, consider themselves the top family of the lane They re stuffy but not overbearing Their two boys are not allowed to play with the Bolling girls.The Bollings are an extended disfunctional family of a physically damaged, angry father, a teenage son, Sonna, who is the neighborhood bully and who will break a reader s heart, and two younger unkempt, flighty daughters who are drawn to the Heraths Their friendship brings into the circle the Bolling children s uncle Raju, a mentally and physically challenged man who remains childlike and who lives with his mother Raju adores the children, especially Devi And Devi adores Raju because he is the only grown up who never tells her what she is supposed to do and not do.In another house, the Nerath children take piano lessons from Kala Niles, the grown up daughter who still lives at home Her mother is one of the homemakers on the lane Old Mr Niles and Nihil become fast friends through their love of cricket and books in one of the lovely relationships forged in this novel.There are sweet friendships among people who often don t have anything to do with each other in other circumstances The Bolling girls love being with the Heraths, who, instead of being uptight, welcome them into their home One Silva boy develops a crush on one of the Bolling girls, and they dream of going to Australia one day where their differences won t matter The Niles family blossoms when the Heraths come with their music.And then there is Sonna He s the tough guy of the neighborhood He is the one everyone fears, because he will attack It s what he learned from his angry, bitter father who was hurt in a car crash before Sonna s very eyes while trying to go off to carouse with a buddy But the Herath children cast their spell on him, too They refuse to see that there is an evil person in Sonna, no matter what cautions the other neighbors give them The missed opportunities of trying to give presents back and forth are symbols of the missed communication that can heal and strengthen personal relationships when successful, but which are bittersweet when they are not.Despite the grownups best efforts, outside political forces come into the lane There are Tamil and Sinhalese, Hindu and Catholic families, Buddhists and Muslims Far too many of the people on the lane fear and hate because they feel they are supposed to do so One family retreats when the troubles come the family members hurt only themselves.Homes are attacked and people gather together The relationships that have been formed don t all hold, but enough of them do to show that even in the face of the world as they know it falling apart, people can still be good to each other and true to themselves Just as missed opportunities are bittersweet for the children, it leads one to wonder what missed opportunities might have helped the political situation from disintegrating In the aftermath, after a haunting chapter in which another street still stands only as ashes that will collapse to the touch and which the only living thing left is not saved, people slowly try to return to the lives they once led Then tragedy strikes There is enough foreshadowing early on that it is not hard to tell who something will happen to, but there is such strong storytelling that even knowing does not take away the powerful emotional impact when that something comes.The personal and the political are woven together so finely in this novel that they do not strain against each other, but bolster the telling of the two aspects of what the Sal Mal Lane neighbors face and feel Information needed to know why it s important to know who is Sinhalese and who is Tamil is presented clearly and in time to be useful Freeman is both a journalist and novelist, so she knows how to deliver the small noticings that reveal character, and the sweep of politics that change a country.
Ru Freeman b 1967 is a Sri Lankan born writer and activist whose creative and political work has appeared internationally She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl Atria Simon Schuster, 2009 , and On Sal Mal Lane Graywolf Press , a NYT Editor s Choice Book Both novels have been translated into multiple languages including Italian, French, Turkish, Dutch, and Chinese She is e
- 408 pages
- On Sal Mal Lane
- Ru Freeman
- 19 January 2017 Ru Freeman