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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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Mosquito – Roma Tearne

What can I say about what was an absolute delight to read.

Call it my ignorance but I had never heard of Roma Tearne before this and from what I hear Mosquito was her first novel, she has published two novels since and is launching her fourth soon.  If this anything to go by, I will be searching out the others soon.

Mosquito has a simple story line and what makes it standout is that it is told simply without distracting artifices. Theo Samarajeeva is a successful novelist who returns to war torn Sri Lanka to write his next book where he meets young Nulani Mendis who is a budding artist. The story is about how their relationship grows from friendship to love.  It is as simple as that. The setting is beautiful Sri Lanka but like the characters there is turmoil and danger lurking behind the splendor.

Theo as the middle aged widower writer is delineated very well. He is torn between  memories of his departed wife Anna, his growing love for Nulani and his sense of propriety in wooing a girl far younger than him. However, Nulani is the one character that stands out. Her journey as the troubled girl who finds expression of her talent under Theo’s guidance traversing across teenage innocence to a victim of circumstances to the successful artist in the end is really an example of well etched characterization.  Sugi as Theo’s Man Friday taking care of his everyday needs but doubling up as his conscience keeper and emotional anchor also plays a very important part in the story. I loved the way Roma transitions the ‘sutradhar’ role from Sugi to Thercy (Sugi’s female friend). The difference between the two is subtly portrayed Sugi is at blinded by his devotion to Theo while Thercy is more pragmatic. The other actors like Theos’ friends Rohan, Giulia and Gerard go with the flow and are neatly placed in the plot. The only character that is not as easily weaved into the story is Vikram. There is a steady build up and one expects him to play a very significant part in the denouement but that is not the case. The story would have done as well even without Vikram.

Roma’s painting skills come to the fore in her descriptions of Sri Lanka. She doesn’t go overboard but her painting of the Sri Lankan landscape is done beautifully. Neither does she overdo the descriptions of war atrocities something which many authors are guilty of.

A wonderful read. My rating 3.75 on 5.

(Published by Harper Perennial)

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Recommended, Uncategorized

 

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