Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Heartbreaking yet hopeful
Title: On Sal Mal Lane
By: Ru Freeman
From 1983 to 2009, the people of Sri Lanka suffered a lengthy and vicious struggle between the Tamil Hindu minority and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. On Sal Mal Lane is a heartbreaking yet hopeful chronicle of the families living on a quiet, multiethnic cul-de-sac in Colombo, the largest city on Sri Lanka. Freeman has a delicate and true touch in writing about the inner worlds of the children on Sal Mal Lane. Devi, the youngest, imaginative child of the Sinhalese Buddhist Herath family, is her next older brother Nihil’s especial concern and care. Suren is developing his significant talent as pianist and composer, while Rashmi is negotiating a transition from perfect daughter to her truthful self. We watch the Herath children, who have just moved to Sal Mal Lane, form friendships (or not) with the children and adults of the other families, while tensions and violence are rising in the city. There is a growing sense of doom, yet once the pivotal catastrophe occurs, opportunities for healing are created.
Freeman makes the island’s political history relevant by filtering it through the perspectives of Sal Mal Lane inhabitants of different ages, educational attainment, and cultural backgrounds. Her ability to describe relationships between characters is impressive. There are wonderful descriptive passages, as well:
"''Kala Akki’s rose vines are on fire!' he said, his memory tricking him into smelling not fire but the fragrance of the roses. Devi and Nihil watched the flaming bushes, transfixed by the way the fire, with its crepitant song, climbed from root, along each twisting limb to flower and on up to the roof of the veranda. It looked like someone was writing in an elegant script, a strange beauty marking the destruction as it went."
A book about the civil war in Sri Lanka needed to be written. I am glad it was written so beautifully by Ru Freeman.
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