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On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel by Ru Freeman

On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel

by Ru Freeman

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1179152,862 (3.92)49



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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Wanted to like it but couldn't get past the horrific writing. Oh, well. I used it for kitty litter. ( )
  bookhimdanno | May 4, 2017 |
i am trying to collect my thoughts in order to express how i feel after having just finished the read. the end of this book, a section titled 1983, which is 93 pages long, was nearly perfect. a few moments of too much telling is my only criticism of this part of the book. (as i was reading, i had reached the same ideas and messages. i felt them implied in the prose. freeman, though, chose to lay some things out very specifically, and i felt most of these incidents to be obvious - so the telling/explaining wasn't necessary to me.) 1983 contains so much heartbreak and beauty. while i didn't cry... i nearly cried. i could feel the tears trying to push their way out. which surprised me, this response, because none of the action in the last section of the book was unexpected at all. i knew where this was going because the fist 276 pages of the novel are spent ominously foreshadowing disaster. so the fact freeman could elicit such an emotional response, even though i knew it was coming, impressed me.

i tell you, though, that first 276 pages... it was a tough go. i wasn't feeling much interest in the story. i was very taken with the time and history of which freeman is writing. and i enjoyed some of the characters very much. but the passivity - which i recognize may be very purposeful as the characters are waiting and waiting for events to unfold - was frustrating at times. i also found freeman's writing a bit inconsistent. she had these absolutely beautiful, wonderful sentences, at moments. then, at other moments, they felt very awkward, or overwritten. as well, the issue i already noted about telling/explaining occurs in the earlier parts of the novel too.

so, before i got to the final section, i was thinking this was another disappointing 2-star read for me. but that last section. man. i am now trying to think about ways the book - which is very ambitious in trying to give fictional context to this very sad and difficult time in sri lanka's history - could have been tightened up. i just read about online, to gain some sense of how others responded to this read. i found this statement in a publishers weekly review (uncredited): "...had this saga—which is three-quarters foreboding, one-quarter violent, heartbreaking denouement—been more concise, it could almost have been called a masterpiece."

and that completely sums my feelings up. so i have landed on 3.5-stars. it will be interesting to see if this book sits with me over the next few days, and if i begin to feel more strongly/positively about the first 276 pages. (oh - total bonus points, too, for maps and diagrams. because i am a dork like that!) ( )
1 vote Booktrovert | Mar 31, 2015 |
My Mother has a good friend who was from Sri Lanka. I knew she lost her family home in Columbo, needed to flee for her safety, Was a Tamil but different from a Tiger. So very confusing to me - all the sects and religions. This story helped me to better understand. ( )
  objectplace | May 31, 2014 |
Set in the late 1970’s in the Sri Lankan capitol city of Colombo, the story centers around the families on Sal Mal Lane, a dead end lane, bound by a busy street on one end and marked by a grove of sacred Sal Mal trees on the other. It’s a mixed neighborhood consisting of middle class : Buddhists, Hindus and Christians, Singhalese, mixed race burghers, and Tamils.

We meet the families, and over seven years watch the c hildren and relationships develop. One teenager finds acceptance in a nearby gang; two fall into puppy love and dream of emigration to Australia. Another pair of sons plan to enlist in the national army; one of the main characters longs to be a composer and musician although his family tries to dissuade him from his choice.

This started slowly with several dozen hard-to-keep-track-of characters. It comes to an emotional and riveting ending in the final section of the book when riots break out in Colombo. The Civil War between Buddhist Singhalese and Hindu Tamils, having simmered under the surface throughout the entire storyline, erupts and changes the quiet neighborhood forever. Suspicions and partisanships divide neighbors that have coexisted as valued friends for many years. In other cases friendship and honor cross all religions and ethnic barriers.

This is an interesting look at the changes brought on by Civil War. Ms Freeman brings Sri Lanka’s history into sharp focus. Her characters are well developed – this neighborhood feels like a real place and I am sad to see the end of them.

I purchased this book in May last year in preparation for the2013 Bellingham, Washington Booktopia. I read Ms Freeman's first book, A Disobedient Girl which I absolutely loved, but somehow this one sank into the depths of Planet TBR.

As an aside, Ms. Freeman was very personable and a delight to meet.

I'll look forward to reading her next novel ( )
1 vote streamsong | Feb 5, 2014 |
This book about a neighborhood in Sri Lanka, a country edging towards civil war, got off to a great start. The writing was sometimes beautiful. In the prologue, the author writes,

“If at times you detect some subtle preference, an undeserved generosity toward someone, a boy child, perhaps, or an old man, forgive me. It is far easier to be everything and nothing than it is to conceal love.”

After that auspicious start, I felt let down. At the beginning of the story, the author includes a map of Sri Lanka, a drawing of the various houses on Sal Mal Lane, and what family lives in each, and a list of the families who live on that lane.

I had to refer to the Lane map and list frequently. Quite a few characters were introduced quickly, and I had trouble keeping them straight.

Most of the characters are not very likable. It does say something about the characters that the one I liked most was a horrible bully as well as being a victim. Most were people I just didn't care about and had trouble caring what happened to them.

I get the message. Neighbors, suspicious of one another because they are different, devolve into accusations and hatred. As does the country. Civil war is anything but civil.

The book has had much acclaim, and good reader reviews, so my less-than-glowing opinion is a minority. Too me, it moved at a snail's pace. I knew too much minutiae of the characters' lives, and just wanted to move on. I sometimes felt hit over the head with the message. Sadly, the book became a chore for me to finish.

I was given a copy of the book for review. ( )
1 vote TooBusyReading | Nov 27, 2013 |
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Neither a person entirely broken nor one entirely whole can speak. In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble. -- Jane Hirshfield, "In Praise of Coldness" from Given Sugar, Given Salt
I get down on my knees and do what must be done and kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son. - Michael Longley, from "Ceasefire"
For my brothers, Arjuna & Malinda:
Loka, who provided the music of our childhood, and Puncha, who kept me as safe as he could.
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In 1976, on the fifth day of the month of May, a month during which most of the people who lived in the country celebrated the birth, death, and attainment of nirvana of the Lord Buddha, with paper lanterns, fragrant incense, fresh flowers and prayers mingling with temple bells late into the night, in the remote jungles of Jaffna, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, a man stood before a group of youth and launched a war that, he promised, would bring his people, the Tamil people, a state of their own.
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Sri Lanka erupted into violence in the 1980s, with people identifying themselves as Tamil or Sinhalese, Hindu or Buddhist, Burgher or Muslim--the conflicts brewed over language policies, territories and curfews. Against this backdrop of sociopolitical unrest, Freeman sets her second novel. The inhabitants of Sal Mal Lane, like a constellation of stars, orbit around the Herath family, whose house is in the middle of the street and whose matriarch embraces the songs and customs of many religions. A devout Buddhist, she nonetheless teaches her children to sing Christian hymns in four-part harmony. Gravity draws first the attention of Mr. Niles, who discerns a troubled soul through Nihil's uncertain voice; then Sonna Bolling, a bully and political thug-in-waiting; then the Silvas, whose own matriarch embraces every bias and prejudice; and later Raju, whose ugly face belies his lovely heart. Utterly devoted to his younger sister, Devi, Nihil negotiates the world of Sal Mal Lane and beyond, learning about Mr. Niles' previous war experience, which has left him chastened, aware that racial distinctions blur, and frightened to witness the rising turmoil.… (more)

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