Title: On Sal Mal Lane
Author: Ru Freeman
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
On one ordinary day in 1979, the Herath family moves onto Sal Mal Lane, a quiet, dead-end street in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Their arrival affects the balance and politics among neighbors on Sal Mal Lane, as Sri Lanka finds itself on the road to civil war.
On Sal Mal Lane is a beautifully written novel focusing on, specifically, the Herath family, and more broadly, on all the families who live on Sal Mal Lane. Freeman pays special attention to the children; as Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly divided along cultural lines, the relationships among the children of Sal Mal Lane only become stronger. Freeman writes these children with strength and vigor, and each will leap off the page for the reader. It’s clear she’s sending a message through these children, and readers should definitely pay attention.
As previously mentioned, the backdrop to On Sal Mal Lane is the tensions leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war. The larger politics are barely mentioned when the novel begins; the people of Sal Mal Lane go about their business, confident that they are shielded by their quiet street. But as the novel progresses, the fraught political situation becomes more and more relevant to the lives of the people on Sal Mal Lane. The way Freeman wrote this is incredibly interesting, because you’d imagine that’s how the normal citizens, away from the actions, also felt about the war. It was insidious, worming its way into their lives, until they could talk about nothing else around the dinner table.
Freeman wrote On Sal Mal Lane from a very interesting perspective: that of the street itself. It’s so well done, as it provides the reader a glimpse into every character’s life. The street can see when relationships change, how they grow and how they stumble. The characters are everything in this novel; Freeman really brings them to life with each word in this novel, and she uses them to comment on many different aspects of life, both universally and in Sri Lanka during this time period.
The writing style of On Sal Mal Lane seems to be something from another time entirely. It’s beautiful and easy to read, yet the reader will want to take this novel slow. There are so many connections, so many different characters and small plots, that it’s easy to miss them if you’re breezing through this book. No, this is a novel to savor from beginning to end. It’s gorgeous and entirely heartbreaking, and is a wonderful accomplishment that readers of cultural fiction must absolutely pick up.
Other books by Ru Freeman: