“A Disobedient Girl” by Ru Freeman, c. 2009, Atria Books, $25.00, 384 pages.
It’s a small world. And it’s getting smaller.
Case in point: you strike up a conversation with a stranger at the airport and find that you both worked in the same building 20 years ago. Or you overhear a dear friend discussing someone you just met that morning – and it turns out she’s distantly related to your new acquaintance. Or you suddenly discover that you really are “six degrees separated” from the Queen of England and Brad Pitt.
Our paths cross with so many people every day, it’s almost inevitable that we’re all connected. But in the new novel “A Disobedient Girl” by Ru Freeman, two women with different lives are linked in the most heartbreaking way.
Latha loved the finer things in life.
Though she couldn’t use the Lux soap in front of Madam, the wonderful smell made her smile, perhaps in part because the soap was stolen. Stolen, like the best things Latha owned. Sure, she wore nice saris, but they were always hand-me-downs. Because she was a servant, Latha was expected not to want the finer things in life.
She didn’t remember a time before she came to the Vithanage home. They told her that she had no mother and that was why she became Thara’s servant. Latha and Thara were friends, but Vithanage Madam never let Latha forget her place.
Long ago, Biso tried to drown herself and her three children in the ocean but when the waves broke over her body, she lost her courage, walked out of the water and returned home to another beating.
Biso loved her children: the oldest, Loku Putha, big-boned like his father but way too impressionable. The middle child, Loku Duwa, who knew her mother’s favor lay elsewhere. And Chooti Duwa, the baby, the child whose father was not Biso’s husband. The favored daughter whose father was stabbed and killed by the man Biso was forced to marry.
Latha always wanted children, but who would marry a servant? Her first child, conceived in revenge, was taken from her. Her second, conceived by an American, was ripped from her. But her third child would allow her to make a family.
Every now and then, I get a book that makes me want to do nothing but go to the sofa to read. This is one of those books.
Beautifully written (although a little wordy at times), “A Disobedient Girl” pulls you into another world completely. You know that no good will come to defiant Latha, and though you truly want her to have those fine things, you know it will come at a price. You’ll want to wring haughty Thara’s little neck. Watching Biso unravel is unsettling, and – while you may have the “secret” figured out by the middle of this book – it hurts to read the way it happens.
Judging by this, Freeman is an author you’re going to want to keep an eye on. For a debut novel, “A Disobedient Girl” ain’t no small thing.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.