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On Sal Mal Lane Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war Ru Freeman's epic novel explores the lives of the diverse families that live on Sal Mal Lane and the heartbreaking ways this once harmonious community turns on one another with the country on the brink of warOn the day the Herath family moves in Sal Mal Lane is a uiet street disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there As each neighbour adapts to the newcomers in different ways the children fill their days with cricket matches romantic crushes and small rivalriesBut when the tides of civil war begin to turn towards the neighbourhood their differences ignite in ways no one could have imagined As the stability of their neighborhood is threatened by clashing political beliefs and prejudices the children of the community are forced to watch their parents and friends turn against one another Seen through the children's eyes the events on Sal Mal Lane come to mirror the course of modern Sri Lanka at its most violent and volatileA powerful evocative work On Sal Mal Lane masterfully illuminates the origins of this war and explores the lengths family will go to protect one another

  • Paperback
  • 408 pages
  • On Sal Mal Lane
  • Ru Freeman
  • English
  • 16 January 2016
  • 9781770893559

About the Author: Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman b 1967 is a Sri Lankan born writer and activist whose creative and political work has appeared internationally She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl AtriaSimon & Schuster 2009 and On Sal Mal Lane Graywolf Press a NYT Editor’s Choice Book Both novels have been translated into multiple languages including Italian French Turkish Dutch and Chinese She is edito



10 thoughts on “On Sal Mal Lane

  1. Kalen Kalen says:

    This was a slow book for me which isn't a bad thing at all I'm just used to reading faster Some of my favorite books including English Patient Possession Middlesex were slow reads too I think sometimes it's good for a reader to be forced to slow down a bit This one started off slow as the first part of the book is character driven than plot driven By the last third or so it's definitely plot driven and the story moves rapidly and this in my opinion was the strongest part of the book This is such a sad beautiful book and the children of Sal Mal Lane really make it special It's a powerful book about community religion and how people come together or don't in the face of tragedy and war I am grateful that Freeman included a list of characters at the beginning because even in the last pages I had to stop to see which family one of the kids belonged to and my hunch was right If I had one wish for this book it would have been a focus on fewer characters' stories I suppose Devi and Nihil really were the primaries but there were a lot of different people and stories competing for space throughout I suppose my secondary wish was that I knew about the history of Sri Lanka You don't have to in order to appreciate this beautiful book but I think I would have understood some of the unspoken intricacies better I get to meet Ru Freeman at a Booktopia event in June and I am so excited to talk about this book and hear her read from it

  2. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman is both stunningly beautiful and at the same time deeply sad but above all takes the reader to places most have not been and this reader knew little about life leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war Freeman’s writing is beautiful almost poetic at times even with such a heavy topic the characters will imprint themselves on the reader and Freeman easily transport the reader back in time to Sri Lanka allowing the reader to view life through several well rounded flawed and exceedingly realistic characters There are times this book is painful to read and yet Freeman’s prose carries the reader through I cannot praise On Sal Mal Lane enough and it is my hope all readers will pick up a copy and learn about the history and culture of Sri Lanka

  3. Ming Ming says:

    a sweet and bittersweet story a compelling read about the innocence of youth with the backdrop of social unrest in Sri Lanka in the early 1980's and its roots yet again in British imperialism and its impact on those children the author builds a multi layered scenario where various families on the street live and navigate their own and their neighbors' ethnic and religious stakes I was awed by how seemingly simple and innocent passages set the stage for and depicted deeper and dangerous actions and feelings an ultimately satisfying read wowps Sri Lanka's anti terrorism laws are a stark warning for the US read that NSA

  4. Shatarupa Dhar Shatarupa Dhar says:

    Synopsis The four Herath siblings along with their parents – the father a government employee in Sri Lanka and the mother a school teacher – move into a house On Sal Mal Lane in the southern parts of the country in the year 1979 This story is about them about how the entire lane seems to find a new lease of life how the people in the lane and their lives slowly start to revolve around them and how they all influence each other But there is a simmering discontent which is sometimes evident within the thoughts of some of the residents of the lane and also in the country A story which while limited to the lane it is named upon contains a history of ordinary people in the years leading up to the beginning of the Civil War from 1983 Review I’ve started a new trend of reading for myself I begin a book with the end pages Nope not spoiling it just to check whether there is something else other than Acknowledgement and a Note on the font And there was a Glossary there which I can refer to while reading the bookI read this story in fits and starts the reason it took me close to four months to finish reading it But this story will always remain close to my heart and deserves all the hype that I can create for it A story of innocence of children growing up of events beyond anyone’s control; a story of wonderful dreams and dashed hopes; amidst the clamour of civil war A story where class and caste differences are attempted to be understood through the eyes of innocent children who are trying to understand the complex world that the adults inhabit A world that the latter having left behind their days of innocence seems to unnecessarily complicate melodious voice It lifted and cuddled its consonants and aired its vowelsWhat a beautiful and poignant story this was A historical fiction spread over five years – from 1979 to 1983 – it starts with a prologue On 5 May 1976 the narrator brings forth a short history of the country that is Sri Lanka And the numerous conflicts that plagued the nation But all of it is to be told from the perspective of everyone who lived on Sal Mal Lane Even if they may be insignificant people in the grand scheme of a nation they too share the same history and are affected by itAfter the epigraph the first thing that you see is a map of Sri Lanka followed by a pictorial depiction of Sal Mal Lane accompanied by a list of the members of the families inhabiting houses on both sides of the lane which helped in visualising the setting while reading the book The prologue itself promised a wealth of writing Especially the way the narrator introduces itself at the end in the first person Yes itself Sounds bewildering? It did to me too Every year has a few chapters with titles that indicate what is to come in those chaptersIt is far easier to be everything and nothing than it is to conceal loveIn the early days of 1979 the Sinhalese Buddhist Heraths moved into the only empty house On Sal Mal Lane Named after the grove of sal trees at the very end of the lane what made this stand out was the way the children of the lane were at the crux of the story This first chapter set the tone for the entire novel Yes the Sinhalese Buddhist is a necessary bit of information since the novel among other things involves the gradual escalation in tensions between the Tamils and the SinhaleseReading a book from a culture other than mine is always such a wonder Getting to know their homegrown remedies their foods their festivals etc It also brought home the fact of how children don’t care at all about caste euations religious standing or social classesHe felt burdened by the weight of all his learning which he knew came with the corresponding responsibility to seize any opportunity to correct The omniscient narrator appears from time to time giving us a hint of something that possibly might have led to the events in the future As the story unfurls behind the prim and proper facade of Mrs Herath lies an unyielding persona that sometimes doesn’t even stop to consider her children’s happiness This story reaffirmed how kindness and music can go a long way in uniting humanity The author’s way of narration how she started with a simple enough tale about a neighbourhood weaved in the national Tension with a capital T which was simmering before the full blowout and her subtle hints about how it would be in the future even if it seemed all happy and gay at present was magnificent The writing is lyrical it rolled off my tongue and settled deep in the crevices of my heartThe writing was a revelation especially when other characters were also given a voice albeit briefly I was amazed at the author’s use of wordplay where through the children’s activities she drew a picture of the country and the events to comeIt was the sort of trouble that would soon overflow its banks and flood the nation turning the small ponds of concern and occasional tears of Sal Mal Lane into their own tributaries of discontentThe last few pages made me weep For all the things lost for all the promises unfulfilled A senseless loss which spiralled into grief and acts which beg the uestion when does it all end? Certainly not with the epilogueThis was a tough review to write and I can only imagine how Ru Freeman was able to pen down this story Even after so many words I still haven’t covered what all this book was about I can only reuest you all to please read this bookPS I borrowed a paperback copy from the local branch of the Delhi Public LibraryThis is also my entry for Prompt 15 of the Reading Women Challenge 2019 A book written by a South Asian authorAlso in keeping with the trend here is what I would call the Playlist of this book Brahms 3 Intermezzi op 117Debussy’s Arabesue no 2Brahms 6 pieces op 118 Ballade in G MinorChopin Ocean Waves Etude op 25 no 12 HBagatelle in A Minor op 59 Für EliseChopin Nocturne no 21 in C MinorPiano Sonata no 14 in C sharp Minor op 27 no 2Fernando by ABBAOut of the Blue by Michael Learns to RockWhat’s Forever For by Michael MurphyUnder the Boardwalk by the DriftersEbony and Ivory by Paul McCartney and Stevie WonderYellow Submarine by the BeatlesTennessee Waltz the Anne Murray versionKalu Kella MamaiOriginally posted onShaina's Musings

  5. Bonnie Brody Bonnie Brody says:

    Sal Mal Lane is a dead end street in the capitol of Sri Lanka On that street live people of different religions and ethnicities Sinhalese Tamils Burghers Muslims Hindus Christians and Lansis So far on the surface they get along but a storm is brewing in the country and with authorial intrusion we know that things will turn violent with timeThe children of Sal Mal Lane are the focus of this delightful novel The Heruth children star in this book There is Rashmi who is perfect in her studies and a perfectionist in every way Devi has finally attained good grades after a time of rebellion and opposition “She is innocent spoiled impetuous loving a free spirit vulnerable” Nihil can see words forward and backwards and he is prescient of Devi’s future Suren is a musical prodigy who wants to make his life in music despite his parents wanting him to become an engineerOn the outskirts of the central characters are Sonna a ‘bad boy’; Raju a simple man; the twins who are impoverished; and other children who live on the laneThe Herath parents are uite political and stand to the left of center Mr Heruth has been involved in a strike that has gone awry with failure but he keeps fighting for the Tamil minority As he fights the country goes and towards the Sinhalese with everything written in their language or English “Around the city the rumors continued Rumor had it that the Tamil language would soon be banned altogether that Tamil shopkeepers were erasing the Tamil from their signs that Tamil politicians addressed everybody in English and did so out of fear “The children will find themselves looking into a world they don’t understand one that is filled with discord pain and uprising I found out a lot about Sri Lanka a country that was uite foreign to me Ru Freeman does a wonderful job of educating the reader and her writing is very interesting coming from childrens’ perspectives as it does I recommend this book for people who enjoy international literature

  6. Jim Jim says:

    This novel is set in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 1983 a time of civil unrest and revolution on this island nation At the center of Freeman’s tale is the Herath family and their neighbors on a short street Sal Mal Lane in the nation’s capitol Colombo In telling their story Freeman is able to show on multiple levels the growth of societal dischord in Sri Lanka Much of the book concerns the children of Sal Mal Lane and their relationships with one another Their interactions can be distilled into a series of parables for the adult reader to ponder The overall message seems to be that both good and evil are a part of our world and each will show itself over time This uote from an adult neighbor talking to Nihil one of the Herath children speaks to this point “People do not go to war Nihil they carry war inside them Either they have war within them or they don’t have it The thing to think about is do you and I have war inside us?” This is a book to savor in small sips like a fine wine The reader needs to go slowly so as not to miss too many of the life lessons that Freeman has provided

  7. Aubrey Aubrey says:

    455 I'm not nearly as picky about buying books by women of color as I am about nearly every other demographic Indeed I believe I paid full bookstore price for this particular copy purchased alongside The Moor's Account that may have also not even been on my TBR before it found its way onto my physical shelves It's not as if I've never been disappointed by such whimsical WOC oriented purchases but that my past reading is still so woefully lacking in such voices that they deserve all the chances that they can get period It's what lead to this work not on any of my GR friend's shelves not on any famous lists or name drops crossing my path and discovered to be lovely lovely enough that I wouldn't mind a seuel or a trilogy or time spent in the maturation of a neighborhood in a country I had never to this point read a book credibly set within I likely won't be paying full price for another work of Freeman's unless the book buying itch becomes exceedingly bad but I will be keeping an eye out for others The ending was a tad too drenched in pathos to make the reading of the work necessary but it's close enough for me to wish would take it on for a casual stroll For what was the worth of being a genius if choice was denied to him? After all fools were always told what they should do and they were foolish because they obeyed The call of an unknown literary place setting plus the author's credibility in rendering said setting plus admittedly the pleasing cover art all worked towards my choosing for purchase this book for the full jacket price Freeman is an author oft given to soft touches of omniscient foreshadowing which made for a beautifully haunting opening of overarching grace but admittedly was laid on a little too thick at times especially during the penultimate forty or so pages Despite this there is real beauty and real rendering of the complicate politics of identity and economics and the kindness of characters just makes their ingrained stigmatization of one another all the harder to bear as the stereotypes burgeon and the hatreds foment Long as this book is it wasn't long enough to carry all of the cast's dramas from a satisfying beginning to a satisfying end especially in the case of the murder suicide that occurs just before the pages begin and that of all the children left behind to become adults once the pages are done As I stated earlier I would be happy to read a seuel but other works by Freeman are than welcome to cross my path The tone she evokes of coming together and importantly doing the painful work of coming together that is necessary in these blighted times of ours and while the omniscient point of view isn't as vital it's pleasing to see someone harken back to a style of Mary Ann Evans one that isn't afraid to step into the mind of various others and lay bare with sympathy as well as truth all that lays within He was no longer the good boy who did what was expected he was the boy who knew the power of promise and whom he could hold hostage by the mere threat of refusing to live up to it I have to find books like this one in the future if for nothing than to credibly fill in the blanks of my literary landscape I often criticize the overuse of pathos but it is a sin only when it dehumanizes for the sake of its constructed tragedy or bliss and OSML does nothing of the sort or does so little that I'd need a history on Tamil Sinhalese Sri Lanka to find it I would be a task that I would willingly undertake as the current landscape of cynicism and copied emotional displays makes it near impossible to cultivate a generation with critical values that knows the difference between the murder and the murdered and when it spirals out into a revenge tragedy that will either end in compassion or the void I don't know what awaits the coming years for the end of 2016 marked a reign of stagnation on the edge of a cliff that persists to this day and the molasses of distraction threatens to succeed in luring me away to attend to trivialities while we all finally tumble off Dark thoughts to associate with such a triumph of contemporary literature but one cannot appreciate the wholesome without having experienced something of the banality of evil And in those moments he would feel that he was neither full of war nor full of peace he was simply lost

  8. Elizabeth K. Elizabeth K. says:

    I remember seeing a very favorable review in the NY Times for this novel and having a smug moment in which I congratulated myself for being the kind of person who reads world literature and put this on my reserve list at the library Then when it actually came my reaction was like Oh This It seemed very daunting once it was in hand because I don't know anything about Sri Lanka and besides there was a new Patrick Ness coming out and a new Gentlemen Bastards so I had THINGS to doIt ended up being really great It reminded me a little of To Kill A Mockingbird not in style or tone but because of the device of framing social cultural and political issues with the goings on of a bunch of little kids In this case the issues are all related to the conflicts between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the early 80sGoing into the book with zero knowledge about these events I was worried it would be difficult to follow but the book was impressively designed to keep the threads moving along in an easy way especially for ignorant people such as me And it's a lot of complicated history and issues The other side of this coin is that some of the secondary characters feel a bit stock but I'm not uite convinced that's a criticism because it felt like a deliberate choice on the part of the author to assist less familiar readers with staying engaged My personal strategy was to read about 13 of the book to get the general gist of what was going on and then I took a break for some googling of the various historical incidents and political events being referenced Okay strategy makes it sound like I did that on purpose when it was like the timing worked out that way but I would recommend it to anyone who would like an introduction or refresher on the issues surrounding the Sinhalese majority or the Tamil minority and then the religious minorities within each group of Sri Lanka Because so much of the book is spent with the various somewhat dreamy adventures of the children of the families who live on one small residential street there was something about it that reminded me of The Penderwicks had The Penderwicks been written for adults and set against a backdrop of race riots The writing here is lovely and achieves that same effect of creating a children's world that feels both idyllic and realisticI have one uibble which is a tiny part of the book and I realize it seems like the most complainy nitpicky thing in the entire world but for some reason it nagged at me a lot The events of the book are very clearly set in certain years; they are labelled that is how clear it is And one of the things the kids do is listen to pop music on the BBC Now I realize the author is a young person and I'm sure all 80s music is the same to her but there were a few specific songs mentioned that didn't come out until a few years later Maybe this wouldn't matter so much to me in a book where the point was to present the 80s in a general sense but because the plot of this book is so closely tied to real life political events the progression of the years in the lives of the kids seems important to me

  9. Stephanie Anze Stephanie Anze says:

    God was not responsible for what came to pass People said it was karma punishment in this life for past sins fate People said that no beauty was permitted in the world without some accompanying darkness to balance it out and surely these children were beautiful But what people said was unimportant; what befell them befell all of us35 starsSal Mal Lane is a cul de sac neigbourhood in Sri Lanka A community of neighbours of varying classes caste and ethnicities all appear to live in harmony When the Herath family move in they cause uite an uproar Being viewed as friends by some and as enemies by others the Herath family settles in As the children of Sal Mal Lane play music cricket and interact Civil War looms slowly fracturing the seemingly peaceful neighbourhood This is another tough book to rate for me I wanted so badly to love this book and while there are many great and beautiful elements in this narrative as I whole I found it to be too much Sal Mal Lane is a neigbourhood of Sinhalese Tamils Burghers Muslims Hindus Christians and Lansis all seemingly living peacefully side by side The arrival of the Herath family seems to upset this balance Of different castes ethnicities and economic situations the children of all the families are the focus As they get interact and get along or not get along they bridge some some gaps and create others Tensions are ever present and only rise when war slowly looms forcing the people in this community to become vigilant and choose sides First off the prose is just magnificent and almost poetic and the concept is fantastic Where I struggle is with the amount of characters and events I had difficult time keeping track of who belonged to which family and what casteclass they were and why they diddid not get long with a specific neighbour A basic knowledge of the Sri Lanka civil war is needed prior to reading this book which I did not have otherwise many events will not make any sense The plot moved at a too slow pace At times reading this book felt like a chore Hardly the worst book I have read but one that I did not entrely loveIt was a we that the Silvas liked to imagine exited if things came to that though it could be argued that the very existance of the idea was proof that such a division into a we and a them was not far from factWithout a doubt the main theme of this book is unity and looking past our established divisions I love that Freeman focused on the children for their inherent innocence of in matters such as caste or race The final third of the book most strongly drove this point home and was by far the best part of the entire book The devastation and tragedy were tangible but so were the friendships forged through war I love the sentiment behind this book and would have rate it higher were it not for the above mentioned issues Still I am glad to have read this book When it comes to humanity there should not be a we or a them there should be an us Despitr my reservations I would still recommend this book

  10. Bob H Bob H says:

    This is a compelling and intimate story of neighbors on a small lane in a small town in Sri Lanka It's a mixed neighborhood with Tamil Sinhalese Buddhist Catholic Muslim and Burgher families living side by side gossiping suabbling at times watching their children interact and grow up The story runs from 1979 to 1983 as ethnic tensions in the country gradually enmesh them as events move toward ethnic strife sudden communal violence and civil warThe book will reuire the reader's close attention While the human interactions are universal the cultural references the author provides a small and handy glossary at the back need bearing in mind and the cast of characters is fairly large their characters are vivid and varied enough so that they're hard to keep straight These are people the reader can care about but the lane also seems to be a microcosm a symbolic prelude told in one lane leading to twenty six years of civil warRecommend

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