Thanks to MA, for lending me the book after my futile efforts to find it in a few leading bookshops. I am usually circumspect about novels that are launched amid hype. However, I am glad that this one proved me wrong. Another good piece of work set in the Tear Drop Isle following on my last read of Roma Tearne.
Take away country specific nuances and this novel could have been set in India and you would not notice anything out of place; goes to show how closely we are related to our neighbors. Beyond the most obvious like names, Buddhism, love of Bollywood or the awe of the West there is the caste divide, the all pervasive adherence to religion and the belief in the inherent goodness of the human kind. I was amused to read about the popularity of Amar Chitra Katha comics and Madhuri Dixit, I must confess I did cringe at the mention of the infamous Indian Peace Keeping Force.
On to the book now, the title itself is loaded with intriguing ambiguity – A Disobedient Girl. There are at least three characters that qualify for that epithet – Latha, Thara, Biso and at some level even her mother. Besides disobedience is generously painted as an almost positive trait. The story is about Latha, an orphan servant girl at the house of the Vithanage’s who grows up as hand maiden to Thara, the daughter of the house. During this evolution she traverses through stolen love, hurt, betrayal and finally freedom. Her fate is closely interlinked with Biso, a young mother who is fleeing from an abusive husband with her three children. She also attains freedom albeit very different from the one Latha finds.
The actors are brilliantly etched, Latha as the headstrong maid is of course the show piece. Portrayed so well that one tends to forgive her even when she steps beyond accepted norms. Thara as the privileged offspring has her moments as well, but Ru ensures that we do not endow too much of sympathy on her. Biso is almost relegated to a lesser heroine under the strength of Ru’s portrayal of Latha. Again another well drawn out character, Biso is strong, resourceful and touches a chord with her almost pointless struggle. The male characters are again pale shadows, Ajith as the callous opportunist and Gehan the unsure. However, I loved the way Ru has created the character of Mr. Victor Vithanage, without training the spotlights on him and just through the flow of the novel. He emerges as the most unlikely hero, if there is space for one in this female dominated novel.
The beauty of the novel lies in the narrative. Ru has attempted and pulled off a brilliant tactic. There are two plots – one centering around Latha and the other around Biso, the interspersing of the two is done well. While the one with Latha is largely about her life the one with Biso is a train journey. The slow pace of the Latha part is hardly felt because the train journey dictates a sense of movement. Its almost like having a white piece of cloth with the train as the embroider’s needle drawing out an intricate tapestry of political turmoil, human frailties and destiny.
My reservations? If it were not for the pace of Biso’s journey, the Latha part tended to get a tad tedious. The early part of the book was too slow and I had to push myself to wade through it, however the latter parts moved at a brisk speed and kept me hooked. The Latha – Daniel dalliance looked out of place, I was expecting it to have some link to the plot at the end.
A good read, my rating is 3.75 on 5.
(Published by Penguin Viking)