About this book
On Sal Mal Lane
Ru FreemanReader's Guide ↓
One of Reader's Digest Best Summer Reads (US).
Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, Ru Freeman’s epic novel explores the lives of the diverse families that live on Sal Mal Lane and the heartbreaking ways this once harmonious community turns on one another with the country on the brink of war.
On the day the Herath family moves in, Sal Mal Lane is a quiet street, disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there. As each neighbour adapts to the newcomers in different ways, the children fill their days with cricket matches, romantic crushes, and small rivalries.
But when the tides of civil war begin to turn towards the neighbourhood, their differences ignite in ways no one could have imagined. As the stability of their neighborhood is threatened by clashing political beliefs and prejudices, the children of the community are forced to watch their parents and friends turn against one another. Seen through the children's eyes, the events on Sal Mal Lane come to mirror the course of modern Sri Lanka at its most violent and volatile.
A powerful, evocative work, On Sal Mal Lane masterfully illuminates the origins of this war and explores the lengths family will go to protect one another.
A Note from the Author
I was a child living down a small lane in Colombo during the events of July 1983. War defined my entire childhood and all but the last two years of my adult life. It was a time when neighbor turned against neighbor, schools were divided, friendships and romances broken off. A time when suspicions grew, movements were restricted, freedoms curtailed, and people’s rights were compromised.??
At the end of the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government of Sri Lanka in May 2009, I worked on an essay for a magazine about my experiences as a child growing up in Sri Lanka. The editor and I went back and forth several times, and during the process it became clear that the editor wanted a clearly delineated tale about villains and saints, uncomplicated by the nuances of my own, real experience. While I understood that American newspaper culture looked for black and white, the story I was writing was not so simple, and I needed to place it within fiction in order to allow it the necessary space.??
I wrote down seven hundred words about several very different families who lived on one lane, and sent it to one of my brothers. He happened to be online and we started chatting about what I had written. He reminded me of the riots, and what happened that day when we were very young and interpreted the world differently than we do now. It was the stuff of online chats, those half-sentences lacking punctuation, but right away I realized that this was exactly what I had been harkening toward. I didn’t want official statements and propaganda to be the only story heard. I wanted to give people a sense of who we once were, who we became, and how we all lost something that was worth fighting for in that shift.? ?
As a political journalist I understand perfectly how easy it is to reinterpret or misinterpret anything that is said or done, how necessary it is to stay focused on a single message. When I write short political pieces, my opinions are always clear and, often, unforgiving. Fiction is the place where I look for the truth, because it allows for conversation. When I write fiction I am interested in engaging with readers. To see what they think, to hear what they have “taken” from the book, what I intended and what I did not. There is more truth to be had in a communal evocation of it than there is in single-person reportage. Fiction provides space for that.
Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane? ?
While the war in Sri Lanka has ended, the work toward reconciliation is ongoing. People who live in Sri Lanka have the benefit of living as the people in this book live—in the midst of one another, all mixed up. This book is an attempt to lay down a bridge. To say, there is another side and it is safe to cross back and forth. With the publication of the book coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the war’s end, I feel there will be a chance to get this message out both to Sri Lankans and to an American audience: wars can and do end, peace is possible so long as there is acknowledgment of wrongdoing to be set beside the necessity of forgiveness.
About the Author
Ru Freeman was born into a family of writers in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She attended Bates College in Maine and completed her Masters in Labour Relations at the University of Colombo, and worked in the field of American and international humanitarian assistance and workers' rights. Her debut novel, A Disobedient Girl, was longlisted for the DSC South Asian Literacy Prize. She lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.