A journalist uses her experiences growing up during Sri Lanka’s civil war to inform her latest novel. Ru Freeman describes how growing religious and ethnic tensions affected children from diverse backgrounds living on an ordinary lane in Colombo in the years preceding the war.
On the day the Herath family moves in, Sal Mal Lane is still a quiet street, disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there. As the neighbors adapt to the newcomers in different ways, the children fill their days with cricket matches, romantic crushes, and small rivalries. But the tremors of civil war are mounting, and the conflict threatens to engulf them all.
In a heartrending novel poised between the past and the future, the innocence of the children—a beloved sister and her overprotective siblings, a rejected son and his twin sisters, two very different brothers—contrasts sharply with the petty prejudices of the adults charged with their care. In Ru Freeman’smasterful hands, On Sal Mal Lane ($26.00), a story of what was lost to a country and her people, becomes a resounding cry for reconciliation.
Ru Freeman is the author of A Disobedient Girl. She is an activist and journalist whose work appears internationally. She calls both Sri Lanka and America home.
Piercingly intelligent and shatter-your-heart profound, Ru Freeman’s On Sal Mal Lane is as luminous as it is wrenching, as fierce as it is generous. This is a riveting, important, beauty of a book.”
—CHERYL STRAYED, AUTHOR OF WILD.
“Through the microcosm of a single street—Sal Mal Lane—with its lush, fragrant trees and its multi-ethnic inhabitants, Ru Freeman leads the reader on a journey deep into the unraveling of Sri Lanka during its long and brutal civil war. Freeman creates a rich and complex world, and although we know where the story will lead us, we go willingly, because her characters are impossible not to love, impossible not to root for. In the end, despite the wrenching tragedy, we come away uplifted and enriched.”
—NAOMI BENARON NAOMI AUTHOR OF RUNNING THE RIFT, WINNER OF THE 2010 BELLWETHER PRIZE
“Ru Freeman has written the masterwork of Sri Lanka’s bellum civile, a novel that patiently and lucidly witnesses the daily lives of children on a single lane as the violence builds. There are no acronyms, no convoluted battles, no dreary expository detours. This is a civil war about a garden wall, a cricket game, a bicycle ride, music lessons, the shopkeeper that won’t sell to you anymore and a teenager choosing between the house of one friend or another’s to burn. It distills one of the last century’s most complicated wars into what it really was on the ground—the everyday reality of that timeless threat, the neighbor turned killer.”
—LORRAINE ADAMS, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER AND AUTHOR OF THE ROOM AND THE CHAIR
“Ru Freeman’s new novel moves like a stage play in a dream. Dread hovers over the richness, childhood’s abandon faces the crushing power of adulthood, and we live for a time in a world many of us did not imagine. And we fear what might be coming.”
—LUIS ALBERTO URREA, AUTHOR OF QUEEN OF AMERICA
“An elegaic and powerful portrait of a troubled time. Ru Freeman beautifully interweaves humanity and history, creating a wise, thought-provoking and deeply felt novel.”
—MADELINE MILLER, WINNER OF THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR THE SONG OF ACHILLES
“On Sal Mal Lane is a finely-wrought sculpture of the capillary systems by which nihilism and violence travel from the political realm to the intimate, and back again.”
—RANA DASGUPTA, COMMONWEALTH PRIZE WINNER AND AUTHOR OF SOLO
“Loss of innocence is probably a universal mark of coming-of-age, but much of the innocence lost in Ru Freeman’s captivating On Sal Mal Lane, shouldn’t be visited upon young people, or any people for that matter. This beautiful novel gives us children of a Sri Lankan lane at a certain historical moment. There’s a community here, and there are families here, and there are indviduals here. Ru Freeman writes of the collective and individual ties and links these characters share – with all their differences and at the same time commonalities. They learn from the adults how to see the world – and how not to. There is adolescent puzzlement – and insight. Utter heartbreak is here – for the rapacious violence and madness of the world does come – and smile-as-you-read passages of larger spirits and powers being realized to the better. Ru Freeman’s excellent A Disobedient Girl is now followed by a major leap up in accomplishment, empathy, artistry.”
—RICK SIMONSON, ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY
“This novel is beautiful. It is like a piece of music that floats and rises with countervailing currents both light and tightly wound. Rich in imagery and careful observation On Sal Mal Lane Inhabits our hearts and senses so deeply we become a member of this community of Sri Lankans experiencing terrible personal upheaval brought on by civil war. And the children, oh! the children, brave and scared and wounded and wise – Ru Freeman loves them tenderly and completely, she has made them shine with every kind of longing, bewilderment and determination one could imagine as they are pushed into a world going wrong. On Sal Mal Lane is so quietly vivid it will never leave me.”
—SHERYL COTLEUR, COPPERFIELDS BOOKSTORE
“A deeply moving and brilliant novel. . . . Devi reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and Swede from Peace Like a River, small girls who make very large impressions, and I’m sure that On Sal Mal Lane will join their ranks as a new perennial favorite of booksellers, librarians and of course, readers.”
—CATHY LANGER, TATTERED COVER BOOKSTORE