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A Disobedient Girl – Ru Freeman

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)

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Posted by on June 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

Ever since I read “The Kite Runner”, I was quite sure that I would definitely read Khaled Hosseini’s next book, whenever it came. I was a tad disappointed when I read the introduction at the back that said it deals with two women and their evolving relationship in the backdrop of the Afghan war. First of all I am not all that fond of books dealing with war, secondly I have read quite a few of books dealing with women in the Middle East. (And no, I am not belittling the pains of war and the tribulations of women). But going by the first book, I decided to give it a shot and I am quite happy that I did.

While the book deals with the femine perspective on the war and their lot throughout their lives even without it; I was quite intrigued by the male characters in the book. All the men in the book are flawed at some level, even the hero Tariq. Rasheed of course takes the honours and is the ultimate beast, shallow, crude and a brute. He does everything possible to break the spirits of both Mariam and Laila, and for a major part of the book he succeeds. His adherence to the diktats of the Taliban is opportunistic and uses it only to control his women. However, he shows another side when he is pampering his son.  It seems that he is fighting the truth of senility and he is fighting against it with his ultimate desire to father a son.

Tariq for all his charm and endurance is timid and unsure. He is almost a reflection of Laila’s father, largely ineffective. To my mind, it is Jaleel, Mariam’s father who is the real hero. For all his flaws he comes out as a purged man in the end. One ends up forgiving him for his actions.

The relationship between the leading ladies is very intricate. Their lives mirror each other’s through the book. If Mariam is unjustly treated by her insecure mother, so is Laila’s who lives in the memory of her martyred sons. Jaleel is driven by the need to maintain his position, while Laila’s father is tepid and scared. Starting off as perceived rivals, Mariam and Laila settle down and grow in each other’s company. Mariam’s maternal instincts come to to fore, Laila becomes the strong woman her friends always said she would.  

Somehow the words of Mariam’s mother haunts you through the book – “Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

My recommendation, buy the book and read it.

 

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