On Sal Mal Lane, by Ru Freeman, is a beautiful story of a neighborhood and of neighbors in the years leading up to war in Sri Lanka. The book begins with the Herath family moving into their new house on Sal Mal Lane, in the capitol city of Colombo. Before long, the Heraths settle in as residents of Sal Mal Lane, and the four children, Suren, Rashmi, Nihil, and Devi build a childhood full of friends, cricket, school, music, and play. But all is not well in the country, with unrest surfacing first far away and then too close to home, forcing the residents of Sal Mal Lane to decide where their loyalties lie.
Freeman’s writing style is simply elegant, with an air of pure storytelling. For lack of a better word, I would describe this book as a “slow” read, but slow like a perfect day when one has the feeling of having all the time in the world, not slow like lagging behind. While this is a story about happy days full of childhood things, there is a thread of uneasiness under it all that Freeman creates with a few carefully chosen updates about the world outside of Sal Mal Lane which she then leaves here and there for readers to find. And when this uneasiness culminates at the end, the reader is hit like a ton of bricks by the surprisingly powerful message On Sal Mal Lane has to offer.
On Sal Mal Lane is not a quick read, nor a fast-paced one, but when I finally closed the book on the last page I felt glad for knowing the story, for taking the time to savor each chapter and to let the story build in its own way. This is a book that is worth reading!
Freeman, Ru. On Sal Mal Lane. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2013.
Cover design by Kimberly Glyder Design. Cover art by Pallab Seth/Getty Images. Image from BN.com.