Friday, July 14, 2017

A Disobedient Girl - Ru Freeman

A Disobedient GirlA Disobedient Girl has been on my reading list for a while--I think it came up as a recommendation while I was reading other books taking place in Sri Lanka.  However, the university library didn't have it and it also wasn't available through the public library's Overdrive system.  But I needed a few other books from the brick-and-mortar public library, so I put in a request for this one as well.

The story here follows two main characters, Latha and Biso.  Latha's story starts when she's a young girl and the servant of a well-to-do family, mainly the family's daughter Thara, who is the same age as Latha.  But Latha has never felt like she should be a servant, and as she and Thara grow, so does that feeling, leading to acts of rebellion and disobedience.  Biso is a grown woman with three children fleeing an abusive marriage at the beginning of her story, and her entire narrative takes place over the course of that flight from her husband to the mountains where her family lives.  At first, I couldn't really see the connection between those two narratives, until I hit upon that they're not taking place at the same time.  Once I realized that, it all made a lot more sense.

Latha is not an imminently likable character.  She's bratty and passive-aggressive and sometimes downright nasty.  However, she is an extremely sympathetic character.  Balancing those two halves can be very tricky and not many authors can do it well; Freeman does it wonderfully.  Biso was less "connective" to me, especially at the end of the book.  Her religion and philosophy didn't mesh well with my own thoughts and beliefs, and I found myself disliking her more with every chapter towards the end.  I found Biso's half of the book (the chapters between the main characters alternate) to be more atmospheric than Latha's half, and definitely not as forward-driven as Latha's half, either.  But the sense of atmosphere was wonderful, and Biso's story, simple as it is, is what really starts all of it.  With this in mind, the structure of the book is largely circular.  Latha is stuck in the same circle that Biso enters on her journey...until the end, where she seems to find an "exit" from the loop that promises a brighter future.

Overall, this was a lovely book.  It was slow in some spots and every now and then the characters grated on my nerves, but I still really enjoyed it.  I think it definitely helped that I'd read some other books taking place in Sri Lanka in similar time periods, because it meant that I had some background that wasn't present in the book and lent me an understanding of things that I wouldn't have otherwise had.  However, I think you could have done without that; you might have wondered a bit about some of the political things discussed, but those didn't have an imminent bearing on much of the plot and it was a strong book either way.

4 stars out of 5.

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