Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Disobedient Girl--Ru Freeman (book review)

A Disobedient Girl is two tales in one, of two different women struggling for independence in Sri Lanka. Readers who are drawn to this book because they're interested in global women's issues won't be disappointed. Freeman puts these two women's daily struggles into a historical, political and social context that is unique to Sri Lanka, but many of the issues they face are universal--the impact of class on relationships, the driving need for respect, the power of maternal love, and the pain of loss.

Biso is traveling across Sri Lanka by train with her three children, escaping an abusive husband. Her love for her children and her pride are evident on every page of her story. The other storyline follows Latha, who's been taken in by a family and raised as a cross between daughter and servant, which is confusing to her throughout her life.
She scowled. Why [the family's chauffeur] insisted on talking to her as if she were an equal she had no idea. Didn’t he notice that she sat in the back seat with Thara when she accompanied her on occasion? Not next to him like the gardener did?

“I don’t know why you suck your teeth like that. It’s such an ugly habit.”

The driver snorted. “Madam is in for trouble with you isn’t she? Sending you to school and all that. You better watch your attitude. Soon…”

The two stories are interwoven but take place within vastly different time scales: Biso's covers about twenty-four hours, and Latha's spans decades. Both stories are equally interesting, and the intersection of the two becomes clear near the end. Fans of mysteries will likely enjoy the intrigue; others may find the disparate timelines disconcerting, and the insertion of red herrings frustrating when trying to predict the relationship between the two.

This book isn't bursting with likeable characters. Latha's situation is understandably intolerable to her, but the things she does in response are cringe-worthy. This is an effective way of forcing readers to look at the larger issues, the societal factors that make this character who she is. But readers who are looking for characters to connect with will prefer Biso's storyline--that is, until the end.

The Soundtrack: I'm hoping to ask Ru Freeman for suggestions so this may change, but for now I'll go with a song by Ranidu, the first Sinhalese artist to be played on BBC's Radio1 and MTV.

This review is part of a promotional book tour, which I am participating in as a volunteer. The opinions are my own, and have not been endorsed or approved by TLC Book Tours, the author, or the publisher. Other stops on the tour can be found at the TLC Book Tours site.


  1. Fabulous review, Ali! I am about 3/4 of the way through it. I like the characters of Latha and Biso because they show such different ways of coping with difficult situations. I agree that while some of the situations are specific to Sri Lanka, they are also universal in the powerful issues they raise. Well stated. Ru Freeman is supposed to write a guest post for my blog on the 25th about Sri Lanka if you are interested.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this book! I was amazed at Ru Freeman's way of making me tear through the pages, even though I wanted to linger over her beautiful prose...

  3. Unsympathetic characters are great opportunities to look at ourselves in my opinion. No one is all good or all bad. And our circumstances impacted us in ways that render us at times unlikable people. Sounds like my kind of book.

    Please link this for Color Me Brown. Have you left us any links, Ali? I'd love to send you books, too.

  4. Rebecca, I'll definitely look for that guest post. (And by the way, I'm working on your 20 questions right now!)

    Elizabeth, so glad to hear you enjoyed it. I found myself flipping through quicker than I normally read to find out what happened, too.

    Susan, thanks for the reminder--I've kept the challenge in mind all month but forgot about posting links! I have several reviews in the wings for Color Me Brown, also. Just need to get them written.

  5. I agree with Color Online, that unsympathetic characters provide a great opportunity for us to look at ourselves, or even the bigger picture, because you're not as emotionally connected to them as you would be with a character you like.

    I think this book sounds great. :)

    Thanks for your thoughtful review, Ali! I look forward to seeing you in...TWO DAYS! Woohoo!

  6. Wonderful review and sounds like a great book. I love reading about people who are different and maybe unsympathetic. I agree with Trish above that it gives the opportunity for self-exploration and discovery if we are willing to take it.

  7. I have a friend who works closely with the Sri Lankan embassy. I wonder if she's heard of this novel...I'll have to ask her.

  8. Just finished this one today - and loved it. I actually found the characters sympathetic...but certainly many of their choices are difficult to understand. My review posts on Wednesday :)