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A Disobedient Girl: A Novel by Ru Freeman
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A Disobedient Girl: A Novel

by Ru Freeman

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2181279,548 (3.94)39
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I will start off this review with some information about the author. According to a Guardian.com website book review, the author was raised in an aristocratic Sri Lankan family. Her grasp of the Sri Lankan caste system, the political tensions that have impacted her country and the details of the clash between a modern world of denim jeans/T-shirts and traditional coming of age rights of passages for girls, are poignant and captured well. What I struggled with was the characters, and in particular, Latha. I get that she is chaffing at the binds that tie her to the servant class status she has in Thara's household, and before that in the household of Thara's parents, but she just never comes across as anything more than a shallow individual who equates social position with owning good quality leather sandals. Seriously, you have to read the book to understand why I am saying this. Latha makes choices that I just cannot accept. I am not saying that the circumstances she finds herself in are deserved - this book has some great examples of a family that is prepared to blatantly lie, even to each other, to protect social position - but she just goes about trying to improve her life in all the wrongs ways. The Biso story is better - this is one of those books with two story-lines it keeps shifting back and forth between - and I found it easier to relate to Biso and her trials. Maybe part of my trouble with this one is the audiobook narration. Parts of the book seemed to jumble in my mind and the reader's voice as she pronounced Thara's name started to really grate on me after awhile... just a little to emphatic with the Thara's. I also struggled a bit in determining the time period for the book. I finally settled on the book covering the period from the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the early 1980s to the publication date of the book, 2009, but I could be wrong.

Overall, an okay read with great representation of Sri Lanakan society and class prejudices with minor glimpses into the Sri Lankan politics, struggles and geography. Aptly titled. ( )
  lkernagh | Sep 30, 2015 |
Taking a month to concentrate on international authors has exposed me to so many gems. Ru Freeman's A Disobedient Girl is one.

The way she tells the story of a young woman who is a servant to the daughter of a wealthy family in parallel with a woman who has lost everything kept me guessing the connection. I enjoy stories which keep me asking "Where is she going with this?"

And so, in the last chapter or so, we learn about the cyclical nature of one family's tragedy, and the class system which encourages the systemic oppression of women.

What a well-written, often heart-wrenching story! ( )
  AuntieClio | Jun 8, 2015 |
Skillfully, gently, Freeman brings together the tales of two women that at first seem unrelated until a revelation near the end, which signals the doom of Biso and the powerlessness of Latha who grows up most her life a servant in the Vithanage household in Sri Lanka.

Biso’s journey from an abusive husband begins with such hope but ends in tragedy when she trusts her life to strangers who betray her and take two of her children. There is nothing left for her but to abandon her youngest at the doorsteps of a Catholic orphanage before lighting herself on fire and walking in front of an on-coming train.

In a parallel plot a young girl, Latha, forgets her mother after she’s “rescued” from an orphanage by Mr. Vithanage, a mid-level bureaucrat, to become his daughter, Thara’s, life-long friend despite the mistreatment she experiences from Thara’s mother. The young upper class boys in their lives become Latah’s lovers but she never becomes their equals. And it is the calamity of rivalry, betrayal, and classism that she suffers. Her own pregnancy in unwed state makes her an outcast, and leads her to return to the same Catholic orphanage of her past where she must abandon her daughter to the nuns. The Hindu cyclical construction of the novel reasserts its setting.

Freeman’s novel tells us about class distinction, prejudice, powerlessness, heartbreak, and resilience in modern Sri Lanka. Freeman’s skill is in manipulating chronology so that the relationship between Biso and Latha is hidden until the climax of the novel. ( )
  Limelite | Dec 9, 2012 |
This is a novel about status and how people are born into either a life of luxury or a life of servitude. The story opens in Sri Lanka with Thara, a spoiled little rich girl and her servant, Latha. Latha thinks Thara is her friend, but Thara and her mother definetly do not treat Latha like a friend. They boss her around, parade their fancy clothes and shoes in front of her, deny her even the smallest luxuries like bar soap, make her bathe in a well, and sleep on the floor. Latha is treated like a slave. The novel follows this household as the girls grow up with Thara getting everything and Latha getting nothing. Latha has sexual relations with Thara's childhood crush, resulting in a baby and a scandal that changes the entire household's life forever. After being sent to a convent where she gives up her baby she (for some crazy reason that I cannot yet understand!), goes back to be Thara's servant again. Now Thara has her own household, but except for having a different "master" and "mistress" Latha is treated much the same. She proceeds to raise Thara's children while at the same time pining for the one she herself gave away and aborting another. Except for agreeing to sleep with a man here and there, Latha never makes any decisions of her own and never tries to better herself or change her life in any way. She is simply a servant. The most courageous thing she does is slap and spit on the "master's" mother.

Meanwhile, every alternating chapter is about a woman named Biso that lived ten years earlier. (NOTE: The actual years are never identified. You must either have a familiarity with Sri Lanka's political history or Princess Diana's to figure out what time zone this takes place in.) Biso is running away from her abusive husband that murdered her lover. While we learn Latha's entire life history, Biso spends most of the entire novel on a train. Between reminscing about her past, watching her three children, and purchasing food from miscellaneous vendors every other page, bad things happen to Biso. There is a connection to Biso of ten years previous and to the current Latha. I had it figured out halfway into the book. ( )
  Soniamarie | Feb 16, 2010 |
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Epigraph
I am resolved of all indignities. She remains
wrapped like a flower, like the bloom
of a flower, within herself, far away.
the wind like an ogre moves
around her, not touching."
-Gamini Seneviratne, 'I, The Wind,'
from Another Selection
Dedication
For my mother, my first teacher and editor, who taught me to expect more than the quietly possible out of life, and for my father, who demonstrated the worth and pleasure of breaking a few rules along the way, and whose wisdomI continue to acknowledge only after the fact.
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She loved fine things and she had no doubt that she deserved them.
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Freeman tells the story of two women in Sri Lanka, strangers to one another, yet united by an undying love, as they travel towards an unimaginable destiny.

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