On Sal Mal Lane

Ru Freeman, Author
Ru Freeman. Graywolf, $26 (410p) ISBN 978-1-55597-642-2
Paperback - 386 pages - 978-1-55597-676-7
Hardcover - 386 pages - 978-1-77089-355-9
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-77089-356-6
Ebook - 410 pages - 978-1-55597-072-7
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Political activist and journalist Freeman’s second novel (after A Disobedient Girl) is set in early ’80s Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the start of the civil war between the Sinhalese government and Tamil Tigers. Sal Mal Lane, named for its trees, is home to Tamils, Sinhalese, and mixed-race Burgher families whose children, aware of what separates them, still enjoy a normal life (cricket matches, romantic longings, a musical show), though Freeman never lets it be forgotten that tragedy looms. The Sinhalese Herath children take piano lessons with a Tamil teacher and befriend her ailing father. The strange Raju, a young Tamil man, looks after Devi, the youngest Herath—a neighborhood favorite. The Silva family’s two boys want to join the army to fight the Tigers, and Tamil boy Sonna Bolling feels so alienated that he falls in with thugs. When violence finally arrives, Sonna tries to stop it but is instead blamed—with devastating consequences. Sustaining adult interest in young protagonists is Harper Lee–hard, and had this saga—which is three-quarters foreboding, one-quarter violent, heartbreaking denouement—been more concise, it could almost have been called a masterpiece. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (May)
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