What I cannot say is this: a young woman needs earrings to show that she is proud to be a woman and that she has a family. 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.
Latha is a servant girl in a Sri Lankan household. She has no recollection of how she came to be there, but there's a young girl around her own age in the household and they are quite good friends despite the differences in their situation. Growing up as a sort of second class citizen is very difficult for Latha and she often feels jealous of Thara, but at the same time she loves Thara. As they grow older, Latha takes more and more steps to prove her self-worth...even when they have devastating consequences for those she loves.
Biso is a young mother on the run from her abusive husband. She is taking her three small children and escaping to where she has family. The train trip takes many unexpected turns and proves to be a journey of self-discovery for the young mother...but tragedy awaits.
A Disobedient Girl is quite interesting in structure. Latha's story is told in third person past tense, while Biso's story is told in first person present. Latha's story takes place over the course of years while Biso's takes place over only a few days. The chapters alternate the two narratives.
This worked really well for me. I felt equally invested in both of their stories and there actually does at times, seem to be some connections between them. The violence and strife in Sri Lanka while important to the individuals storylines, is not necessary to understand politically to appreciate the role it plays. The Sri Lankan culture is revealed subtlely through the character's actions and thoughts.
Love is what I felt for this book. I loved it. Freeman's writing is beautiful, perceptive, revelatory. Truly almost every word is perfect. Her characters are women of incredible strength facing great adversity and seeking their way through it. She explores female friendships, the family we choose for ourselves, the themes of dignity, identity, love, free will, and consequences through these characters and yes...it will break your heart.
I feel as if I can't express how much I loved and savored this novel. It is not a happy feel good book, but it's a book that allows hope to break through even when tragedy cloaks circumstance. It's a book that reminds us that no one can decide our worth except for ourselves and the people we choose to love. It's a book I feel is not to be missed.
Source: I received this book from the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour.
I highly recommend visiting Ru Freeman's gorgeous website, where you can learn more about her writing and the country of Sri Lanka.