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A Disobedient Girl: A Novel Hardcover – July 21, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Ru Freeman's debut novel chronicles the trials and travails of two Sri Lankan women and their pursuit of freedom. Orphaned then absorbed as a servant into a well-to-do Sri Lankan family at the age of five, Latha Kumari grows up in tandem with the family's spoiled young daughter, Thara. However, Latha's mysterious origins and ambiguous caste ensure her a future of unpaid servitude in the Vithanages's household. Resentful, she involves herself with the man meant for Thara. This choice ultimately causes her loss and suffering. Alongside Latha's story is that of Biso's, who is fleeing a drunken abusive husband, a murdered lover and townspeople who whisper whore as she walks past. Biso escapes blindly to the salvation and promise of distant relatives in the north, but her journey with her three children across the country is tainted by murder and terrorism. The kindness of strangers runs out, but the end of Biso's tragic journey will end up being the promise of Latha's future. Freeman illustrates contemporary Sri Lankan life through the battles waged between lovers, friends and strangers alike in this study in dignity, strength of character, tolerance and perseverance. (July)
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"Evocative and moving. Ru Freeman is a marvelous storyteller who sees deeply into the complex layers of compassion and love, of sorrow and betrayal. An amazing first novel." -- Ursula Hegi, New York Times bestselling author of The Worst Thing I've Done and Stones from the River
"A thrilling debut: Ru Freeman has given us a wonderfully bold and determined protagonist in a richly drawn, complex, fascinating story. I loved it." -- Lynn Freed, author of The Servant's Quarters
"A heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting novel that celebrates our ability to transcend tragedy." -- Rishi Reddi, author of Karma and Other Stories and winner of the L. L. Winship/PEN Awar
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Top customer reviews
A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman is available from Atria Books, a Division of Simon and Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. It"s ISBN is 9781439101957. It's list price is US$25.00. It can be purchased from Amazon as well as local booksellers.
I selected A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman for three reasons: 1) A friends recommendation; 2) The title and cover art and 3) A brief description of the book at [...] which is Ms. Freeman's website. Based on all these things I thought the book sounded interesting and I was not disappointed.
Ms. Freeman's writing style is simple and direct. She develops her plot and characters with understated ease drawing you deeper into the story, which by its end, will span nearly thirty years. Her writing is such that you enter the world of the story, set in Sri Lanka, with almost no effort and are into the tale before you know it.
Ms. Freeman's characters are well-developed and realistic. They are as filled with flaws as they are with virtues. It is easy to identify with them, hope for them, grieve with them and celebrate for them. There are three main characters, Biso, a higher born caste member married to an abusive, drunken fisherman, whom she and her children are fleeing; Latha, a servant girl who is the companion, from earliest childhood to the third character, the high caste Thara, a pampered, upper crust girl who nonetheless forms a true bond with Latha that will extend throughout time and circumstance.
As a native of Sri Lanka, Ms. Freeman brings the settings and details in A Disobedient Girl to life. From the seaside village to the mountain tea plantations and everywhere in between Ms. Freeman paints a picture that allows you to imagine the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the exotic settings. Some terms or concepts may remain foreign at times making it difficult to remain caught up in the fantasy.
The difference in the lives of we Americans and the life of one of the characters, Latha, can best be shown in the following passage:
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Seventeen I think."
"You don't look seventeen. You look younger; fifteen maybe."
"No, I'm definitely seventeen," Latha said, using her pursed mouth as added evidence of her maturity
"How would you know?" Leela asked, swirling the tea in her cup, round and round and round like she was agitated.
"I counted," Latha said majestically.
"I counted my birthdays."
"Birthdays?" Leela asked, real awe in her voice, "Did your family celebrate your birthdays?"
This book is intended for mature audiences of any social class, though perhaps those of the higher classes might find it somewhat offensive, depending on their attitude toward their servants. Politically, the book manages to portray class struggle without becoming "preachy" and should be of widespread appeal regardless of one's political leaning.
A Disobedient Girl is Ru Freeman's début novel. She has done a good job with plot, setting and characterization in this novel and I find myself awaiting her next novel. I would recommend reading A Disobedient Girl
I recently wrote about this book:
Article first published as Sri Lanka: To Go or Not To Go? on Technorati.
After the 30 year civil war ended, we decided to go to Sri Lanka last summer. Our friends enjoyed a month of great travel in September 2009 and encouraged us to go.
Wondering about the impact of so many years of war, I was worried about this trip. When we arrived, I learned that there had been 450 years of Dutch, Portugese and British rule before the civil war. I decided to ask as many questions as I could.
During our six weeks in Sri Lanka, I was constantly amazed by the friendliness of the people. Everyone wanted to talk to us and tell us how happy they are that the war is over, that there is peace, and that they can now travel in their own country.
The young students we met at Anuradhapurna were from the East and no one had been able to travel to this incredible ancient site for decades. A large group of adults came by bus from Colombo to Nilaveli Beach and all the men wanted to shake our American hands, offer us drinks and ask, "Sri Lanka good?"
We told them, "Yes Sri Lanka is good. The people are so friendly." Perhaps the friendliest I have ever met in the 100+ countries I have seen! During our trip, I read several books of both fiction and non-fiction about Sri Lanka. Reading about string hoppers (noodles made of rice) while eating them for breakfast added to the entertainment.
Reading about the government secret killings and clashes between Tamils and Singhalese in Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost was spellbinding. What really happened I wondered? To read about the drama and struggle of women's daily lives from the point of view of Latha and Biso, two main characters in Ru Freedman's A Disobedient Girl, and then to see it was eye opening.
I turned to Jewish World Watch to discover more about the conflict in Sri Lanka. In their June World Crisis Update, Susan Brooks wrote: "Since 1983, Sri Lanka has suffered from continuous conflict between the government and a separatist rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (often known as the Tamil Tigers).
The conflict is estimated to have killed up to 80,000 people with over one million displaced...Both sides may have committed war crimes...Sri Lankan refugees are still living in transit camps while the land is being de-mined...The government continues to hold 11,000 alleged LTTE in 'rehabilitation centers with no legal representation, no access by human rights groups or relatives."
Our journey did not include the North and Jafna, foreigners were told you needed permission by the government to venture to the Far North. Many locals told us that they can and will go to Jafna but we were not allowed. I am not sure what the conditions are but the JWW report makes me wonder and so does the book Not Quite Paradise by Adele Barker.
Both sources indicate that there are ongoing issues. Staying at the YMBA (Young Man's Buddhist Association) in Kataragama and enjoying the pilgrimage festival, it appears that all is well. However, traveling the two or so "blocks" from our hostel to the beach in Nilaveli past barbed wire and Singhalese Buddhist soldiers makes me wonder. The security checks on the bus near Arugam Bay seemed more for alcohol than bombs but it is hard to know as an outsider.
I hope that tourism will continue to flourish along with peace, sealed roads and more freedom to travel. This small island nation is beautiful with treasures of ancient cities, national parks filled with elephants and leopards and wonderful welcoming people. I highly recommend making the effort to visit this wonderful country. Auyobawan and Stuti (Good bye and thank you).