Bon Courage: Essays on Inheritance, Citizenship, and a Creative Life, by Ru Freeman, Etruscan Press, $19.00, 228 Pages

Ru Freeman—activist, essayist, and novelist—offers us an eclectic, powerful and insightful essay collection. The topics range from political to social to intimate personal matters. Born in Sri Lanka, an island country in South Asia, and raised by parents who were highly educated professionals, Freeman came to the U.S. as a student. Over time, she settled here, married an American, and had children. In the process, she also became a writer and an activist.   

Her activism and an awareness of current global catastrophes inform these essays, as do her personal relationships. In “Memory Loss,” she shares a terrifying story of political turmoil in Sri Lanka that affected her family’s physical safety. In a piece titled “What is Feminism?”, she recounts her experience of growing up in that island nation, where ancient matriarchal tradition continues to play a role. That allows women to claim equal access to many opportunities. As a newly arrived immigrant in the U.S., she discovers a different set of rules for women, which bewilders her.  

During occasional lighter moments, Freeman delves into “Five Books that Changed my Life.” Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, See Now Then resonates with her. “Whenever I read it, I enter and leave the world of her novel as myself, gathering clarity of sight as well as the gift so vital to mitigating that harsh insight: humor.” 

The collection also touches on Alessandro Baricco’s novel Silk, “a tale of travel, passion, and mysterious, silent communication.” According to Freeman, “It is a particular triumph to pull off writing the truest love story of them all.”  

In “Circumstances,” she delves into a horrific incident in the U.S. in which her baby daughter chokes on a banana. Much to her relief, because of prompt medical attention, her daughter is saved in a matter of minutes. In contrast, she describes a parallel situation in Basra, Iraq, where due to sanctions, even basic medical necessities are non-existent, and physicians are often frustrated and exhausted. Due to a shortage of oxygen, a mother loses her child. Referring to the disastrous effects of our wars abroad, Freeman says, “(I)t is vital to recollect those occasions on which we remained silent and deliberately ignorant.” 

It is as though through her writing Freeman would like us to reimagine our responsibilities to our fellow human beings and take necessary actions, realizing that will never be an easy choice.  

“Bon Courage” is a phrase, an expression of support, used by the French to wish someone good luck in an endeavor. In this compendium, it is as though Freeman is saying to her readers, on the “global stage on which we’re all unified,” and which we should attempt to transform, “Hang in there, my friends!” 

Bharti Kirchner is the author of nine novels and four cookbooks, her latest being: Murder at Jaipur: A Maya Mallick Mystery.

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