Saturday, 23 January 2010

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman

7th January 2010, Viking Adult
384 pages, Paperback
Review Copy


Cushions: 3
Daggers: 1
Paperclips: 5
Tears: 4
Yunaleska's rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary from Penguin

Since her days in the orphanage, Latha has been a companion and servant to Thara, a more fortunate girl her own age. But since her trip to the hill-country when she caught her first glimpse of a rose, Latha has known she was destined for a better life. For now, she must watch silently as Thara receives all the luxuries Latha is denied, consoled only by the rose-scented soap stolen from the bathroom of her master's house.

Years and miles away, Biso, a desperate young mother, flees from her murderous husband, taking her children with her to the remote hills. As Biso and Latha journey towards their separate fates, struggling to hold on to their independence, each will betray the people they love, changing the course of their lives for ever.

i stayed up 20 minutes after my normal bedtime to finish reading this. Which is a little surprising, because in the beginning I wasn't completely hooked. I found Biso's and Latha's lives really interesting: there's richness in the detail that makes me feel as if I've experienced life in Sri Lanka, even though I've never been there. This book is chock full of detail: detail of the environment, of food, clothes and lots of detail on people's characters.

The story alternate between Biso and Latha's story. Having the chapters like this kept my interest as reader. I felt sorry for Latha because she envied Thara so much. And yet as the story progresses, I didn't envy Thara at all. Those who appear to have a happy life, can often be discontent with the world. Latha was maltreated as a servant. She wasn't all that streetwise, and ends up pregnant. Naturally all blame lies on her for this - the father's blame is put on a scapegoat. Latha is sent to a convent, where she tries to be content with life. Living with the nuns isn't for her (they do glare at her quite a bit during prayer times. It was funny reading her sighs because it conjured up great scenes in my head.), so she is mostly happy when Thara summons her back. In some ways this is the turning point for Latha. The life she knew as a girl is over. She now has A Reputation. Yet this doesn't matter to Thara, who keeps Latha with her in her married household. The problem is that Thara married the man who Latha loved as a girl. Living in the same household proves interesting. Latha finds out who her true friends are, and a bit more about her life before she was taken in as a child to Thara for companionship.

Initially Biso's story held my interest more than Latha's. Biso is running away from her abusive husband with her young children. I was convinced he would catch them escaping as they fled the house. I thought that was the only bad thing that could happen to Biso. I was wrong. What she endures on the journey to elusive freedom had me in tears. She suffers heartache on a level that can destroy a person. I'd go as far to say that it did destroy her, considering the actions she carried out. All she wants is to protect her children, and be safe and happy. Her story is what happens when children can't be protected. In a lot of ways Latha received more protection than Biso - she could have been left on the streets, but she always had food, shelter and clothing of some sort.

Both women are treated poorly by men. Both women are deceived by people. Both women also form friendships with the same person, a person who links their lives together. A large part of the book is layering up how Biso and Thara are connected. I hadn't read any reviews, or anything other than the back cover, and I didn't realise how significant their lives are to each other. The pieces slotted into place near the end (which is why I stayed up to finish it) and there was a grand light bulb moment when I figured the entire story out. I then wanted to reread it. I didn't - because I needed sleep and I have other books to read, but one day I think I will. It will be interesting to read it with hindsight, to spot the details that I missed earlier on.

A Disobedient Girl isn't what I term a happy read. There is some happiness with in. It deals with lots of issues surrounding women who are seen as inferior to others, servants, how some people are mistreated emotional and physically. There is a political backdrop to the story, but this isn't too complicated and I understood the gist of it. There are scenes of a graphic, adult nature.

Ru Freeman has her own website here.

Suggested reading: Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley

1 comment:

Mary Akers said...

Excellent review for an excellent book!