Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman (2009)

Another brand new book I discovered at the library. I was intrigued right away when I saw it was a first novel and it was by a writer from Sri Lanka, Ru Freeman. I had to take the book home and I am so glad I did - it was excellent.

The story takes place in modern Sri Lanka and moves back and forth between two women's stories - Latha, a young girl who is a servant in a wealthy home; and Biso, a mother of three small children who has decided to leave her abusive husband on the southern shore of the country and take her children to her aunt's home in the north - a long journey by train.

Latha's life is dramatic, due to her inability to resign herself to her fate as a servant. She wants to be seen as a person just as valuable as Thara, the daughter of the family she works for and the same age as herself. Her "disobedience" has far-reaching consequences, not just for her, but for the entire family.

Biso is an incredibly devoted mother but also "disobedient", also unable to resign herself to a loveless marriage and at the point when her husband's violence begins to include one of her children, she plans her escape, which is not without uncertainty or risk. This decision and their trip up north ends in unforseen tragedy, but not before they have some beautiful moments together and meet several random strangers who help them in unexpected ways.

First and foremost, this is a story of women. The men are a bit marginal to the plot and they nearly all let the women down or are dominated by women. It is a story of women as mothers, as daughters, as loyal friends and sisters; helping and supporting each other but also betraying each other. It is also a story about courage, about not giving up and fighting for what your heart desires and for your dignity. In spite of the tragedy in their lives, both Biso and Latha do the best they can with the resources they have, and even though they both make mistakes and suffer the consequences, the ending of the book is bittersweet.

This book is also a fine introduction to life in Sri Lanka, in several layers of its society. There are many scenes with cooking and food, clothing, housekeeping, and other daily routines that gives the reader a real feel for what life is like there.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was sorry when it was finished - I would have liked to know the rest of Latha's story!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Plainsong by Kent Haruf (1999)

A little gem I found by accident...I was looking to see if my library had English translations of Haruki Marukami and thought they might have shelved them under HAR. No such luck but a couple of novels by Kent Haruf caught my eye and a when I saw he was a writer and professor at Southern Illinois University I was intrigued, so I took "Plainsong" home with me.

A delicately written realism...plain people struggling with difficult times in their lives...described with respect and a generous heart... I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was sorry when I finished it.

The author describes the lives of a few people in a small Colorado town - a young high school girl who discovers she is pregnant, a father and his two young sons struggling to come to grips with the fact that their wife and mother abandoned them, the high school teacher who helps her pregnant student in more ways than one and at the same time cares for her father with Alzheimers, and finally the two elderly bachelor farmers who take the risk of stepping out of their years of isolation and against better judgement, become involved in the lives of strangers. Little by little, the lives of these characters become intertwined and at the same time, the author gives us, through them, a portrait of the whole town, both good and bad. A book that had me truly caring for the characters by the end. I highly recommend it.