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!

7 comments:

Kathy said...

This is great--I am guessing I would have absolutely never heard of this book if not for you.

I am curious about your library. I saw in your previous post that you were asking your library for an English translation of a certain book. I'm thinking you live in the Flemish part of Belgium. Does your library have books in Flemish/Dutch, German, French, and English? Or even more languages? Are the books mainly in Flemish or is it more evenly balanced with other languages? It's just hard for me to imagine, since of course my local library only has books in English--and that, just barely. ;) Do you read in languages other than English? How many languages do you speak?

Amy said...

I hope you can find the book - it was really different!

You're right, Kathy, I do live in the Flemish part of Belgium, in the university city Leuven. Our public library has a really good collection of English novels; they do tend to be heavy on UK books, but I don't mind! The biggest selection of books is of course in Dutch, either originally Dutch novels from Flanders or the Netherlands. They also have an extensive selection of French novels and smaller collections of German, Spanish and Arabic books.

I read mainly in English, but also read in Dutch and French (the daily paper, magazines and the occasional novel). I hate reading novels translated into another language when I am able to read the original!

On a daily basis I use English and Dutch, but also speak French when I get a chance - every once in a while when I go to Brussels or trips to France.

RuThless said...

Hi Amy - Many thanks for this review of my novel. I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Did you read it in the Dutch or in English? I just had a good friend read the Italian translation and she was very impressed with how close it was to the English version. In case you did read it in the Dutch, you would be interested to know that it is the closest to the original as it was written! - All best, ru.

RuThless said...

Hi Amy - Many thanks for this review of my novel. I am glad you enjoyed reading it. Did you read it in the Dutch or in English? I just had a good friend read the Italian translation and she was very impressed with how close it was to the English version. In case you did read it in the Dutch, you would be interested to know that it is the closest to the original as it was written! - All best, ru.

Amy said...

Ru, thanks for your comment! I read it in English - I am sure our library has the Dutch translation, though. And thanks so much for writing such a beautiful book! Would you consider writing a second installment to let us know what happened to Latha and her new brother and sister in their future lives? And what happened to her real brother and sister? It just killed me when Biso put them in that car and let them go...

Diane said...

I just found your blog; looks great.

Sadly, I had trouble enjoying this book for some reason??

Kathy said...

I'm very impressed with your multilingual abilities! Did you learn all of those languages by immersion or have you taken classes? (I am working on the vague memory or assumption that you are an American living in Belgium, so correct me if I'm wrong).

AND how exciting for you that the author visted your blog!! That happened to me once (with a children's book by Dan Gutman). While it was definitely the coolest thing that happened to me that day, it also made me a little bit paranoid . . . now I try to make sure I don't talk bad about the authors in my blog posts. ;)