Praise and Reviews
“Freeman never strays far from the neighborhood’s youngest inhabitants. They are wondrous to behold, with their intelligence, imagination and innocence. I don’t know that I’ve seen children more opulently depicted in fiction since Dickens.”
—Christina Garcia for the New York Times Book Review
“Piercingly intelligent and shatter-your-heart profound, Ru Freeman’s On Sal Mal Lane is as luminous as it is wrenching, as fierce as it is generous. This is a riveting, important, beauty of a book.”
—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild.
“Freeman’s second novel is an achingly gorgeous heartbreaker. We know it will be all along, as an old-fashioned omniscient narrator warns of bad news — and when it comes, it is very bad — and yet we cannot stop reading.” Full review here.
—The Boston Globe
“Through the microcosm of a single street—Sal Mal Lane—with its lush, fragrant trees and its multi-ethnic inhabitants, Ru Freeman leads the reader on a journey deep into the unraveling of Sri Lanka during its long and brutal civil war. Freeman creates a rich and complex world, and although we know where the story will lead us, we go willingly, because her characters are impossible not to love, impossible not to root for. In the end, despite the wrenching tragedy, we come away uplifted and enriched.”
—Naomi Benaron Naomi author of Running the Rift, winner of the 2010 Bellwether Prize
“Freeman’s follow-up to A Disobedient Girl is a more ambitious affair but one she pulls off triumphantly…Freeman excels with two characters who are so good they seem to belong to a literary tradition: overweening Mrs. Herath, who sets store by “civilized behavior” and has enthusiasm for the “rehabilitation” of the Bolling girls, is a reincarnated Jean Brodie; and hapless, “half-mad” Raju with his face like “a just-ripening jackfruit that had fallen too fast and too long onto the ground” is straight out of Dickens…On this one street we can find life in all its joy and pain, life lived by people who are so alive.” Full review here.
— Malcolm Forbes for The Star Tribune
“Freeman is a Sri Lankan native now living in Philadelphia, but there is something positively Russian in the feel of this book…For 300 pages, nothing much happens, and it happens beautifully.” Full review here.
— Kathleen Byrne for the Toronto Globe & Mail
“Set in the early 1980s, On Sal Mal Lane is partially a history lesson in which Freeman even-handedly examines the racial, political and cultural tensions of a divided Sri Lanka through the eyes of ordinary people. But at its heart the novel is more universal in its appeal, a lyrical meditation on childhood and family, on fear and innocence, loyalty and fate.” Full review here.
— Connie Ogle for the Miami Herald
“(Freeman) dares to let her narrative unfold slowly, very slowly, balancing a fondness for foreshadowing — we’re never allowed to forget the coming sectarian conflict and its tragic consequences — with remarkable patience. By the time Freeman’s characters are finally tested, some found wanting, some proving to be caring neighbours after all, the reader is thoroughly invested in the fate of all the residents on Sal Mal Lane.” Full review here.
— Joel Lanofsky for the Calgary Herald and the Montreal Gazette
“I finished the novel — and not without a few pauses to collect myself — with a deeper respect for the human spirit, despite what politics, violence, and loss can do to it.”
— Hope Mills, for The Millions
“Ru Freeman has written the masterwork of Sri Lanka’s bellum civile, a novel that patiently and lucidly witnesses the daily lives of children on a single lane as the violence builds. There are no acronyms, no convoluted battles, no dreary expository detours. This is a civil war about a garden wall, a cricket game, a bicycle ride, music lessons, the shopkeeper that won’t sell to you anymore and a teenager choosing between the house of one friend or another’s to burn. It distills one of the last century’s most complicated wars into what it really was on the ground—the everyday reality of that timeless threat, the neighbor turned killer.”
—Lorraine Adams, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Room and the Chair
“On Sal Mal Lane, to put it simply, is beautifully composed. It’s strung together by numerous vignettes that effectively shift from one character to another, which is not always easy to achieve especially with a book that boasts so many multifaceted personalities…(the book) is neither pro-Sinhala nor pro-Tamil. It accepts all of humanity, including its achievements and its shortcomings, with equal weight.” Full review here.
—Karina Pariqh, Pop Matters
“Ru Freeman’s new novel moves like a stage play in a dream. Dread hovers over the richness, childhood’s abandon faces the crushing power of adulthood, and we live for a time in a world many of us did not imagine. And we fear what might be coming.”
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Queen of America
“An elegaic and powerful portrait of a troubled time. Ru Freeman beautifully interweaves humanity and history, creating a wise, thought-provoking and deeply felt novel.”
—Madeline Miller, winner of the Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles
“On Sal Mal Lane is a finely-wrought sculpture of the capillary systems by which nihilism and violence travel from the political realm to the intimate, and back again.”
—Rana Dasgupta, Commonwealth Prize winner and author of Solo
“Loss of innocence is probably a universal mark of coming-of-age, but much of the innocence lost in Ru Freeman’s captivating On Sal Mal Lane, shouldn’t be visited upon young people, or any people for that matter. This beautiful novel gives us children of a Sri Lankan lane at a certain historical moment. There’s a community here, and there are families here, and there are indviduals here. Ru Freeman writes of the collective and individual ties and links these characters share – with all their differences and at the same time commonalities. They learn from the adults how to see the world – and how not to. There is adolescent puzzlement – and insight. Utter heartbreak is here – for the rapacious violence and madness of the world does come – and smile-as-you-read passages of larger spirits and powers being realized to the better. Ru Freeman’s excellent A Disobedient Girl is now followed by a major leap up in accomplishment, empathy, artistry.”
—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
“This novel is beautiful. It is like a piece of music that floats and rises with countervailing currents both light and tightly wound. Rich in imagery and careful observation On Sal Mal Lane Inhabits our hearts and senses so deeply we become a member of this community of Sri Lankans experiencing terrible personal upheaval brought on by civil war. And the children, oh! the children, brave and scared and wounded and wise – Ru Freeman loves them tenderly and completely, she has made them shine with every kind of longing, bewilderment and determination one could imagine as they are pushed into a world going wrong. On Sal Mal Lane is so quietly vivid it will never leave me.”
—Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfields Bookstore
“A deeply moving and brilliant novel. . . . Devi reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and Swede from Peace Like a River, small girls who make very large impressions, and I’m sure that On Sal Mal Lane will join their ranks as a new perennial favorite of booksellers, librarians and of course, readers.”
—Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore
“On Sal Mal Lane is an exquisite composition of the intimacy of everyday life juxtaposed against the larger world. Freeman captures the complexity of the internal struggles of youth in all its confusion and yearning with the greater forces of family and country, forces far beyond their control but that will shape them irrevocably.” Full review here.
—Catherine Gilmore, for The Gilmore Guide to Books.