The prose is a triumph but the story, set in Sri Lanka during the civil war, plays too safe to leave a lasting impression: Open

SalmallaneSal Mal Lane is a residential street 200 km from a clearing in a forest where a war was declared in 1976. Though this war would take place in Sri Lanka, and see its share of horrors conducted against a backdrop of a sun- kissed ocean, this conflict could well be in Crimea, or this street in Gujarat. And Ru Freeman, an immensely talented writer, conducts the narrative as if she were the air that lingered in verandahs that Tamils and Sinhalese, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist, inhabited. They lead lives affected by power struggles whose epicentres are remote, but they themselves are safely ensconced by love and shared responsibility, at least to begin with.

Kitaab’s fiction editor Monideepa Sahu interviews Ru Freeman, a Sri Lankan–American writer and activist (author of On Sal Mal Lane and A Disobedient Girl)

Ru Freeman
Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman is a Sri Lankan–American writer and activist. Her debut novel, A Disobedient Girl, was longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and translated into seven languages. She has been a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Yaddo, and the VirginiaCenter for the Creative Arts. She blogs for the Huffington Post on literature and politics and is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review. She calls both Sri Lanka and America home and writes about the people and countries underneath her skin.

Her first novel, A Disobedient Girl, is the story of Latha and Biso, two Sri Lankan girls working as domestic helpers, who strive for a better life. Her latest work, On Sal Mal Lane, is a sad yet hopeful tale of children growing up in times of civil strife and impending civil war in Sri Lanka. This beautifully written novel has also been longlisted for the DSC Prize. Sal Mal Lane, a dead end street in Colombo, presents a microcosm of Sri Lankan Society. The well to do Heraths are kind and generous Sinhalese Buddhists who celebrate all religions, from singing Christmas carols to sharing Diwali sweets with their neighbours. The other neighbours are Sinhalese Catholics, Burghers, Tamil Catholics, Tamil Hindus and the reticent yet gracious Muslim Bin Ahmed family. The novel explores through the eyes of the children, the effects of increasing communal tensions. Riots, death and destruction visit this happy and peaceful community, and battle lines get drawn. The children realize that what is lost forever cannot be regained. They try to come to terms with this loss in their own ways.