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A Disobedient Girl: A Novel

A Disobedient Girl: A Novel

Written by Ru Freeman

Narrated by Anne Flosnik


A Disobedient Girl: A Novel

Written by Ru Freeman

Narrated by Anne Flosnik

ratings:
4/5 (11 ratings)
Length:
16 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 7, 2009
ISBN:
9781400183685
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

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Also available as bookBook

Description

Set against the volatile events of the last forty years of Sri Lankan history, A Disobedient Girl traces the lives of three characters whose interwoven fates and histories force them to answer life's most difficult questions. Beautiful, haunting, alive, and brimming with truth, it is, above all, a novel about extraordinary circumstances that change life in an instant and the power of love to transcend time and place.



The story begins with two little girls, mistress and servant, one with every luxury and opportunity that money can buy and the other with nothing but her yearning for a better life. Together, they grow up bound by love, betrayal, resentment, and an impossible secret.



Then there is Biso, a devoted mother of three, who risks everything to escape from the hands of her tyrannical husband. But her journey, which begins with such hope, takes her on a disastrous path that ultimately leads her to give her life over to strangers she never imagined she would have reason to know, binding her story with that of the girls in the most unexpected and heartbreaking of ways.



A Disobedient Girl is a compelling exploration of personal desire set against the volatile backdrop of class and prejudice, as three women journey toward their future, united by a shared history but separated by different fates. A bold and deeply moving account that spans three decades of love and loss, it is a tale about the will to survive and the incredible power of the human spirit to transcend the unforgiving sweep of tragedy.
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 7, 2009
ISBN:
9781400183685
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Ru Freeman is a Sri Lankan writer whose political journalism and fiction has been published internationally. She lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


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4.0
11 ratings / 11 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    Taking a month to concentrate on international authors has exposed me to so many gems. Ru Freeman's A Disobedient Girl is one.The way she tells the story of a young woman who is a servant to the daughter of a wealthy family in parallel with a woman who has lost everything kept me guessing the connection. I enjoy stories which keep me asking "Where is she going with this?"And so, in the last chapter or so, we learn about the cyclical nature of one family's tragedy, and the class system which encourages the systemic oppression of women.What a well-written, often heart-wrenching story!
  • (3/5)
    I will start off this review with some information about the author. According to a Guardian.com website book review, the author was raised in an aristocratic Sri Lankan family. Her grasp of the Sri Lankan caste system, the political tensions that have impacted her country and the details of the clash between a modern world of denim jeans/T-shirts and traditional coming of age rights of passages for girls, are poignant and captured well. What I struggled with was the characters, and in particular, Latha. I get that she is chaffing at the binds that tie her to the servant class status she has in Thara's household, and before that in the household of Thara's parents, but she just never comes across as anything more than a shallow individual who equates social position with owning good quality leather sandals. Seriously, you have to read the book to understand why I am saying this. Latha makes choices that I just cannot accept. I am not saying that the circumstances she finds herself in are deserved - this book has some great examples of a family that is prepared to blatantly lie, even to each other, to protect social position - but she just goes about trying to improve her life in all the wrongs ways. The Biso story is better - this is one of those books with two story-lines it keeps shifting back and forth between - and I found it easier to relate to Biso and her trials. Maybe part of my trouble with this one is the audiobook narration. Parts of the book seemed to jumble in my mind and the reader's voice as she pronounced Thara's name started to really grate on me after awhile... just a little to emphatic with the Thara's. I also struggled a bit in determining the time period for the book. I finally settled on the book covering the period from the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the early 1980s to the publication date of the book, 2009, but I could be wrong.Overall, an okay read with great representation of Sri Lanakan society and class prejudices with minor glimpses into the Sri Lankan politics, struggles and geography. Aptly titled.
  • (4/5)
    A Disobedient Girl is two tales in one, of two different women struggling for independence in Sri Lanka. Readers who are drawn to this book because they're interested in global women's issues won't be disappointed. Freeman puts these two women's daily struggles into a historical, political and social context that is unique to Sri Lanka, but many of the issues they face are universal--the impact of class on relationships, the driving need for respect, the power of maternal love, and the pain of loss. (See my full review at Worducopia)
  • (4/5)
    Skillfully, gently, Freeman brings together the tales of two women that at first seem unrelated until a revelation near the end, which signals the doom of Biso and the powerlessness of Latha who grows up most her life a servant in the Vithanage household in Sri Lanka.Biso’s journey from an abusive husband begins with such hope but ends in tragedy when she trusts her life to strangers who betray her and take two of her children. There is nothing left for her but to abandon her youngest at the doorsteps of a Catholic orphanage before lighting herself on fire and walking in front of an on-coming train.In a parallel plot a young girl, Latha, forgets her mother after she’s “rescued” from an orphanage by Mr. Vithanage, a mid-level bureaucrat, to become his daughter, Thara’s, life-long friend despite the mistreatment she experiences from Thara’s mother. The young upper class boys in their lives become Latah’s lovers but she never becomes their equals. And it is the calamity of rivalry, betrayal, and classism that she suffers. Her own pregnancy in unwed state makes her an outcast, and leads her to return to the same Catholic orphanage of her past where she must abandon her daughter to the nuns. The Hindu cyclical construction of the novel reasserts its setting.Freeman’s novel tells us about class distinction, prejudice, powerlessness, heartbreak, and resilience in modern Sri Lanka. Freeman’s skill is in manipulating chronology so that the relationship between Biso and Latha is hidden until the climax of the novel.
  • (3/5)
    This is a novel about status and how people are born into either a life of luxury or a life of servitude. The story opens in Sri Lanka with Thara, a spoiled little rich girl and her servant, Latha. Latha thinks Thara is her friend, but Thara and her mother definetly do not treat Latha like a friend. They boss her around, parade their fancy clothes and shoes in front of her, deny her even the smallest luxuries like bar soap, make her bathe in a well, and sleep on the floor. Latha is treated like a slave. The novel follows this household as the girls grow up with Thara getting everything and Latha getting nothing. Latha has sexual relations with Thara's childhood crush, resulting in a baby and a scandal that changes the entire household's life forever. After being sent to a convent where she gives up her baby she (for some crazy reason that I cannot yet understand!), goes back to be Thara's servant again. Now Thara has her own household, but except for having a different "master" and "mistress" Latha is treated much the same. She proceeds to raise Thara's children while at the same time pining for the one she herself gave away and aborting another. Except for agreeing to sleep with a man here and there, Latha never makes any decisions of her own and never tries to better herself or change her life in any way. She is simply a servant. The most courageous thing she does is slap and spit on the "master's" mother. Meanwhile, every alternating chapter is about a woman named Biso that lived ten years earlier. (NOTE: The actual years are never identified. You must either have a familiarity with Sri Lanka's political history or Princess Diana's to figure out what time zone this takes place in.) Biso is running away from her abusive husband that murdered her lover. While we learn Latha's entire life history, Biso spends most of the entire novel on a train. Between reminscing about her past, watching her three children, and purchasing food from miscellaneous vendors every other page, bad things happen to Biso. There is a connection to Biso of ten years previous and to the current Latha. I had it figured out halfway into the book.
  • (5/5)
    Sri Lanka is located in Southern Asia, an island which lies in the Indian Ocean south of India. The war between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists began in 1983 and the resulting ethnic conflict has contributed to thousands of deaths. Despite a cease-fire negotiated by Norway in 2002 between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), renewed violence occurred in 2006. It is against this political backdrop, spanning a 30 year period, that Ru Freeman’s debut novel unfolds.A Disobedient Girl begins as two parallel stories. Biso, a mother of three who is fleeing her abusive husband, envisions a future of hope and new beginnings but her journey quickly becomes disastrous. As one unpredictable event after another occurs, Biso must make decisions which will have a lasting impact on those closest to her.Latha (a servant girl) and her mistress Thara (the daughter of high caste parents) grow up together as friends. But when Latha makes a fateful decision to seek revenge against Thara’s mother, the girls’ friendship and Latha’s future is threatened. Latha is sent to a convent, then two years later returns to Thara’s home where she must deal with her own personal desires and the hope for a better future despite the limitations of class and prejudice.The novel is narrated in alternating viewpoints: first through the third person limited point of view of Latha over a 30 year span of time; and then through the first person point of view of Biso over the course of a few days. This unique technique is effective in building tension and setting the stage for a surprising twist at the end.A Disobedient Girl examines the destructive power of secrets, betrayal, loss, and domestic violence, and the power of love to overcome tragedy. Sri Lanka is not only a source, but a destination country for the trafficking of men and women for the purposes of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation…and in Freeman’s debut novel, this aspect of Sri Lanka is revealed through the eyes of her characters who experience these dangers first hand.Ru Freeman’s writing is stunning, beautifully crafted and powerful. She carefully reveals her characters’ desires, motivations and flaws…and in so doing, draws the reader into their stories. I found myself marking passage after passage of this extraordinary novel. One passage reads:All my children grab my body, pressing close to me, screaming with fake terror. I listen to the echoes of other children’s voices from compartments to either side of ours. These shrieks that I have heard each time we pass through a tunnel lift my spirits. They are the sounds of childhood and innocence. When we are out of the tunnel and my children let go of me, I feel unmoored. - from A Disobedient Girl, page 123 -Indeed, I felt unmoored at times while reading A Disobedient Girl – transported to another time and place, experiencing things which most Americans can only imagine, and feeling moved and haunted by the book’s characters…who although fictional, could be almost any woman living under such circumstances. Freeman does not spare her readers from the raw emotions of fear, anger, or desperation. But, she also allows for the hope of redemption and salvation.Like the train which Biso boards, A Disobedient Girl moves relentlessly forward towards its heartbreaking, yet hopeful conclusion. When I turned the final page I felt awed by the power of the human spirit which is able to survive the worst of tragedies; and the strength of people to continue on in the face of loss and overwhelming odds.Readers who love literary fiction and who want to be wowed by a writer’s talent, should look no further.Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Sri Lanka is located in South East Asia, an island country just south of India. It is a beautiful country that has been mired in conflict for over 40 years. Cultural and religious differences are at the forefront of the civil unrest and terrorist acts by extremists. Ru Freeman's novel, A Disobedient Girl, is set during these tumultuous times. Biso is the mother of three young children. In the early morning hours, she prepares her children for travel. After years of abuse, she has finally decided to leave her husband. They travel by train to the north, hoping to take refuge with Biso's mother's sister. The long train ride allows Biso time to reflect on her life, about her affair with the love of her life, his death at her husband's hands and the continuing abuse she suffered. Her children are her life, especially her youngest, the product of her affair.This is also Latha's story. Latha works as a servant for the Vithanages, a wealthy family in Colombo. She and the daughter of the house, Thara, become friends although Latha is never allowed to forget her lower status. Latha has never taken easily to her role as servant. She feels she deserves better in life and often lands in trouble for going after what she wants. Her choices in life are not always the wisest, and, while still a teen, she becomes pregnant by her friend and mistress' love interest.Biso's story is told over the course of a few days in first person; while Latha's is in third person and spans many years. It is an interesting technique that the author balances well as she alternates between characters with each chapter. The stories of the two women are connected in such a way that makes the ending all the more bittersweet.I was drawn to both stories equally. Both Latha and Biso are flawed characters and strong women. My heart instantly went out to Biso and her children. While I may not approve of extramarital affairs, I do understand on some level why and how they come about. It becomes more complicated when cultural issues are thrown into the mix. Biso had lost her own mother at a young age and was married to a man not of her choosing. That marriage quickly became a violent one. Biso longed for love and to feel wanted. She found that in Siri. All that ended when he died, and Biso had to begin making other choices.It took longer for me to warm to Latha. Latha is a passionate character. As the novel opens, she is young and naive and often impulsive. She carries with her a sense of entitlement and does not seem to know her place. The treatment of child servants was appalling and a part of me cheered for Latha for knowing she deserved better even while knowing her life would have been easier had she played along like the good little servant girl. I have read several other reviews that berate the fact that that Latha does not evolve as a character over the course of the novel. She never does seem to fully take responsibility for her actions, always seeming to lay the blame at others' feet. At the same time, I think she did grow as a character in other ways, eventually coming into her own.Ru Freeman captured the hearts of her characters and the country about which she wrote. Through her characters, readers get a feel for the political unrest, the caste and class struggles, and the inner turmoil and sacrifices of both Latha and Biso. It took me about 76 pages or so to really get into A Disobedient Girl and while I wanted to shake the characters at times for the decisions they made, I enjoyed it just the same.
  • (4/5)
    Ru Freeman's A Disobedient Girl is set in Sri Lanka and is narrated by two women, Latha and Biso, in alternating chapters. Each of these women struggles with their station in society, the desires they have to improve their lot in life, and the journey they find themselves on after making pivotal decisions. Readers also catch a glimpse of Thara and Leela's lives and struggles."Earrings are not decorations. They are a statement of legitimacy, of dignity, of self-worth. Ask any woman, and she would tell you that she would pawn everything she has before she gave up her earrings. Even her wedding band. For what is a wedding band worth except to say that a man coveted your children and wanted to claim them for his own? A wedding band can come from any man, just like children. Earrings, a real pair of earrings, come only with love." (Page 121)Sri Lanka is in the midst of civil unrest when we meet Biso for the first time, but when we meet Latha, she is in the prime of innocence. Biso has lived a hard life, though she is not jaded by the loss of her greatest love or the abuse of her husband. Latha, on the other hand, is resentful of her station as a servant girl in a high-class home and straddles precariously between the world of a upper class girl, like her mistress' daughter Thara, and that of a servant. Class struggles, political unrest, and danger permeate the pages of A Disobedient Girl."No, I had lain there, my arms around his dying body, the blood from his wounds flowing into me along with his passion, his body shuddering until there was nothing left except the blood that came over his body and included me in its embrace. I had stayed like that until he slipped out of me, and then I had stood. I had walked into the ocean and let the salt water wash my skin, the churning sands scrubbing my exterior of his blood even as the night air hardened my pain into a fist inside my chest." (Page 149)The narration begins slowly and builds to a crescendo, though readers may have a tough time with the broken and interrupted thoughts because it can detract from the atmosphere that Freeman attempts to create. Latha's chapters reflect her naivete and her impulsive nature, while Biso's chapters reflect a mature woman who is methodical in her actions and chastises herself for self-indulgence when she must care for three children.However, Freeman has a gift for dramatic language and situations, illustrating how each woman faces tragedy and overcomes the suppression they feel because of their caste and decisions. A Disobedient Girl is not about a specific girl or woman, but about the rebellious part of human nature that desires to be free and in control of its own destiny.
  • (4/5)
    Latha is a servant girl for the well to do Vithanage family. Being close in age to their only child, Thara, she forms a friendship and a quasi sisterhood that she naively believes endows her with some sense of equality. Sadly, she learns over time that Thara is the beloved daughter and she is just a servant and therefore not entitled to the wealth and privilege that Thara takes for granted. Through some poor decision making on her part(she is a child afterall) she becomes pregnant by Thara's boyfriend/crush. She is banished to a convent where after her child is born, it is taken away by the nuns. She is then returned to her former masters, this time as a servant for Thara upon her marriage.Biso is a mother of three running away from her abusive husband and the disappointment of her former life. Her story is told in alternating chapters with Latha's and we are never actually told the time frame for her unfolding story. Much of her story takes place on the train that she is taking away from her old life and through this journey we discover details of her life thus far. Her mother, though of a higher caste marries a lower caste man who treats her with love and respect. Unfortunately, Biso's mother dies when she is very young and her father sinks into grief from which he never seems to recover. Biso eventually gets married off to a man who turns out to be an alcholic and very violent. Her affair with a local fisherman would leads to the birth of her youngest child but would bring even more unhappiness for her.While some have complained that there were few sympathetic characters in this book especially Latha, I personally did not see that. While Latha certainly made many, many bad decisions, I saw her mistakes as occasioned by her particular circumstances. I think that at the bottom of all her pregnancies was the desire to be seen as just another woman, capable of inspiring the love and respect of a man and not just a servant who her society sees as only deserving of its dregs. Unfortunately for her she continues to discover that the men she chooses all present one facade until there is a hitch in the road and then she is discarded. Latha is seen as a disobedient girl because she will not yield to society's status quo and be content with her lot in life but continues to push in subtle and quiet ways for what she sees as her right to live as she chooses. But she is a servant and what would be excused in a rich higher caste woman will never be forgiven of a servant.Biso also discovers that her dreams of freedom are laced with many obstacles. She may have escaped her husband but can she escape her larger society that sees her as just a poor woman and therefore subject to its disdain and disregard?While I mostly liked this book, there were some things about it that left me wanting. Despite being only 374 pages, the book somehow comes off as too long. I think that this is because as beautiful and descriptive as the language was, some of the descriptiveness got tiresome after awhile. The middle sections of the book somehow managed to be boring while still conveying parts of the story that would prove integral to the plot. Also there are political rumblings constantly taking place in the background but we are never actually given a clear picture what these agitations are about. Unless you already have foreknowledge of Sri Lanka's political past and present, the mention of them seems to lack its full impact. But the last fifty pages or so got very interesting and I found myself again engrossed as I had been at the outset of the book. A very interesting and sad read about the lives of servants in modern day Sri Lanka.
  • (5/5)
    Set in Sri Lanka, A Disobedient Girl tells the story of two women, Latha and Biso. Latha is raised in the priviledged household of the Vithanages. As a young child, her role is that of a friend to their only child, a daughter named Thara. As young girls, their status appears to be the same, but as Latha grows older she discovers that her destiny is that of a servant. She sees and experiences the difference in class and must come to deal with this painful realization. Biso is a mother of three, desperately attempting to get her and her three children away from her alcoholic and abusive husband. The reader follows Biso on her several day long journey to her mother's family in the north. Freeman's writing is vivid and honest. The characters come alive on the pages of this debut novel. Freeman introduces us to two extremely strong women, attempting to survive in a world that attempts to oppress them. I have to strongly disagree with other reviews that indicated these two characters aren't deserving of sympathy, that they deserved the lives they were forced to live. They couldn't exactly rise up and overcome their oppressors. The lives they were leading were once forced upon them. They were born into this horrid system of ranking. The lengths they went to and the sacrifices they were forced to make earned them my undying respect. In reading A Disobedient Girl I viewed a side of Sri Lankan culture that I hadn't ever before. Freeman dealt with difficult issues that many are afraid to delve into. The journey the two women take is a painful search for independence and respect in a culture that restricts privileges due to class. A Disobedient Girl is a painful and devastating glimpse at this culture. I highly recommend this novel to any reader interested in learning about different cultures. It will open your eyes to these differences in cultures, and the plights that women are forced to deal with based purely on their sex. It also brings up a lot of points of discussion and would be the perfect book club joice as well. Reading this made me appreciate even more the rights I am afforded as a citizen of a democratic nation. This novel was set in the 1980s and 1990s and it is terrifying that situations like this existed in my lifetime. So rush to your local bookstore and pick up a copy; you won't regret it.
  • (4/5)
    Freeman has done a beautiful job of weaving together a heart felt and thought provoking story that spans over three decades. Based in Sri Lanka, this story tells the journey of two women fighting to survive and overcome their allotted "place in society.” It speaks of strength of character, true love, perseverance, and dignity.Latha, an orphan and servant, struggles to overcome her societal status and fights to maintain her dignity. In her efforts, she loses her innocence while competing with Thara- a childhood friend that enjoys all the privileges she desires. During her lifetime, she discovers how unfair life can be, but never loses faith in her self-worth. Biso is a mother of three children, who flees from her abusive husband and leaves behind her murdered lover and the whispers of critical townspeople. She plans to start a new life in another town, where her Aunt lives. Her journey is mixed with the kindness of strangers and inexplicable horrors. The decisions she has to make are heart wrenching, and will unavoidably affect Latha’s life forever.