So I bought it but didn’t plunge deep into it for quite a few days.
Once I did start reading it, On Sal Mal Lane captured my heart and at least for a few days, gave me a world full of happiness, innocence and love. It wasn’t a book you couldn’t put down; because every now and then you have to put the book down to really feel what Freeman is telling you, to picture that world the Heraths, Silvas and Bollings live in. And you aren’t totally immersed in the book either, your face expressionless. You smile, frown and laugh as the children say and do things only children can say and do.
While reading On Sal Mal Lane, I kept thinking about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both books are about war, about innocence and children living through houses that are flattened to the ground. There are games and words, laughter and tears. They both have a narrator; Liesel’s story is told by the ever-present Death while the happenings on
Sal Mal Lane are told to us by everything
However, On Sal Mal Lane is better than The Book Thief because this is a story about our children, our roads, our country, our war. It is our story.
It becomes our story because those characters, every one of them, are someone we know. We know people who live in their musical worlds, where words are not mere letters strung together but sounds that tell us stories, that make us feel things. We know of the Youngest in the Family who is loved and taken care of her older siblings in a way that makes us envy the love of siblings. We know of Rajus, who are children, not adults. We know of Sonnas who we want to help, to love, to be friends with, but we can’t or we don’t. We know of the Herath parents, too immersed in their adult worlds and we know of people like Mr Niles who find happiness in words shared with someone still young, still healthy and still innocent.
We don’t know what the characters look like. Freeman gives us few details, about ponytails, Kalu Kellas and hidden-away scars. But their appearances don’t matter, the
bands, flowery dresses or sandals. In the book, what matters is who these
characters are, the choices they make, the words they use. We picture them as
we please, climbing trees, playing cricket and learning about things children
shouldn't be learning about; war, violence, hate.
*Mild spoilers regarding the twist in the story. Events that take place aren't mentioned*
There is an artist. He shows us his empty canvas, so white, so clean. He covers it in water colors, bright, happy colors. He carefully dabs at that white sheet, with blues, purples, pinks, reds, yellows and greens. He covers it all, with happiness, innocence, love, kindness. And then he drops it in water, the paint washed off, and the paper damp with faint patches of color here and there. That sudden pain you feel when you see him dropping that painting into water, that is what you feel when reading On Sal Mal Lane.
You know something bad has to happen. No author gives the reader so many reasons to fall in love with a book without snatching all those reasons away. However, with the war, terrorism and anger, with Black July and looting and the Pomeranian on
Avenue, the reader assumes they have gone through
the worst the writer has in store for them. Such false beliefs, just like those
the children had.
Sal Mal Lane
isn’t about the war. It’s about Sri
Lanka, it’s about children and it’s about
life. Sure, there is a war going on, but it’s almost as if Ru Freeman created
this war just so the story could go on. It’s not only about politics, which Mr
Herath talks about and the children rarely listen to, it’s not only about dead
soldiers and a man who stood before a group of youth and launched a war. On Sal Mal Lane gives
you everything you expect from a book. It makes you say to those characters, “I
understand” and it makes you feel like Sonna, who never joins but watches from
Why buy the book?
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Sal Mal Lane
is such a book.
“Books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
But it is also a book that you don’t want to tell others about because they may not fall in love with it the way they should.
Sal Mal Lane
is also a book that paints that perfect picture of a childhood in Sri Lanka, the
kind of memories we have, the same fears we had. It’s a book that belongs to
Books written by Sri Lankans who don’t live in
Sri Lanka tend
to be like a puzzle with a few missing pieces. On Sal Mal Lane doesn’t have those missing
And why shouldn’t you read the book?
Because it will make you think less of the other books you have read. Because it will give you all the reasons to feel truly happy, and then take those reasons away from you. Because it will make you go to bed with an aching heart and tears that sting your eyes. It’s a book that won’t gather dust on your bookshelf and it’s a book that deserves to be reread and reread, the reader hoping for all those ‘what if’s and ‘only if’s Nihil keeps wishing for.
"Love is for the person who loves, not for the one who is loved."