The Sound of Language: A Novel by Amulya Malladi

I read this book over two months ago, and realized just now that I had forgotten to review it. Blame it on the madness that was my life when we were relocating back to the UK.

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Raihana, a refugee from war-torn Afghanistan has been offered refuge in Denmark, thanks to a distant cousin of hers. She doesn’t know what happened to her husband, doesn’t know how to find out either. All that she can do is try putting away her past, and  forge a new life for herself in a strange land, where she did not even know the language.  As an immigrant in Denmark, she needs to learn Danish, and starts off in a language school. Part of the process of learning Danish is working in some sort of business so that the immigrants learn how to speak Danish and blend themselves with the local culture better. Most of her compatriots end up working stocking shelves in supermarkets, but Raihana apprentices herself to a widowed beekeeper, Gunnar. She thinks that it is rather apt, because she finds that Danish sounds like bees buzzing, to those who don’t understand it.

Gunnar is a recent widower. Ever since his wife’s death, he has not been himself. He has not bothered looking after for himself, or the bees that he and his wife tended to, so lovingly. His friends and family have been worried about him, but soon, they have another worry – his new apprentice, Raihana. Gunnar himself was not jumping with joy at having Raihana in his house. He preferred to be left to his own sorrow. Nothing mattered to him any more. However, once he got over the shock of having Raihana as his assitant, he slowly starts pulling himself together. Slowly, he goes back into the bees, and starts teaching Raihana, everything he knew.  Teaching the young refugee about bee keeping and Danish seemed to have a therapeutic effect on Gunnar himself. Slowly, the immigrant and the widower forge a bond, a friendship, which is not viewed by others around them very kindly.  A friendship that is as strong as it is unexpected. Just when Raihana starts getting comfortable in Danish society, and pushing her past out of her mind, when she is forced to confront certain realities.

I loved the premise of the story. The lives of immigrants, of refugees who are forced to leave their country, sometimes to save their lives, sometimes to forge a better life and the ways in which they integrate themselves into the host country. Some like Raihana, go for it, wholeheartedly, giving it their all, while some, like some of her neighbours, just do what they have to do, or live off benefits. For a change, the book also looks at the situation from the point of view of the people of the host country. The reasons or prejudices why they find it difficult to help the refugees integrate. Of how it takes two to tango,  it is as important for the hosts to be welcoming as it is for the immigrants to want to integrate. And above all, irrespective of the differences in outward appearances, internally, we are all the same, with the same type of emotions, and attachments. The story is also about Raihana as a person and her reactions, and her ways of adapting herself to the new place she finds herself.

It was a beautiful story, a change from the regular run-of-the-mill sorts. The characters were well fleshed out. You could completely understand where each of them were coming from.  The whole situation is handled in a very simplistic way, not really getting into more complex issues surrounding immigrants and their integration into the host country, but I think the book did achieve what it set off to do. There are a few things which do not quite sit right. Like the cover picture. It shows a woman in a hijab, but Raihana herself did not wear one, in fact she resisted pressure from others around her to wear a hijab. But that is a minor point, really, one that did not bother me too much. A book that I would certainly recommend. I would give it a 3.5/5.

About the Author

Amulya Malladi is an acclaimed author of five books. She was born and raised in India. She now lives in Denmark with her husband and sons.

This book is available from Amazon and Flipkart(India). I got it from Blossoms, the second hand book store in Bangalore, and it was an absolute steal!

The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

The name caught my attention. Having loved Malladi’s A Breadth of Fresh Air, I was tempted to give this a try.

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Priya Rao had left India 7 years ago as a twenty year old student. For seven years she avoided coming back, and managed to flout most of the strict rules that her mother had handed out, most important of them all – not to marry a foreigner. Well, she’s not married him yet, but she’s engaged to him. And the biggest challenge she faces this holiday is to tell her parents all about Nick, the man in her life.

Returning back to India, Priya realizes that while she has changed a lot over the last few years,things seem to have remained same back home in India. Things she grew up with, suddenly felt alien and strange, although her family, her really extended family seemed to be just the same. The same values, the same power struggles and conflicts, the same beliefs, some of which included very narrow view of Westerners. All of which, of course seems even worse now, now that Priya wants to marry one. How on earth is she supposed to tell them that, when the whole family seems more interested in getting her married to a nice Indian boy? They seem to be ready to do anything to get her married off to a nice Indian Boy.

While her family arranges bride-seeing ceremonies, Priya is at a loss. She feels torn and a traitor to both her family and Nick. She knows she will have to choose between her love and her family, and it’s no easy choice, even though her family gets so annoying at times, even though Nick is just perfect for her. Both are equally part of her. To have to choose is so brutal.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the mango season, the way life in India in the hot, sultry summer was depicted. I could almost feel the sweat, taste the tangy mango pickle that was made, hear the bargains that Priya’s mother stuck up.. and Priya’s embarrassment. It was just great! I love these sort of books, which totally take you to the place they are set. Priya’s dilemma felt real as well. Especially given the family that she came from. Although the story could have been predictable, the manner in which it unfolds is quite nice. And there is a nice little twist at the very end.

A quick, fun read, one that will keep you entertained and asking for more. The ending was a wee bit abrupt, but never mind, I still liked the book, over all.

A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

My first book by this author. I picked it up based on recommendations on Goodreads. Now will probably be a good time to talk about how much I have come to love Goodreads. Especially the recommendation section. I’ve come across interesting books, and new authors. I think I log on to goodreads more than I do on to Facebook, and that is probably a good thing too.

On the night of December 3, 1984, Anjali waits for her Army officer husband to pick her up at Bhopal Railway Station. The delay in his picking her up changes her life forever, when the catastrophic gas leak poisons the city. She manages to survive but her marriage does not. That night in the poisonous city, changed her life in more ways than one, and as she later came to realize, in ways that would affect her lifelong.

Years later, remarried to Sandeep, and mother to Amar, a young boy who is severely affected by the ill-effects of the gas his mother inhaled, life is tough, but peaceful and she finds happiness with what she has. Until the day, Prakash, her ex-husband re-enters her life. Prakash, the husband who is the reason her son is so very ill, Prakash who married her for all the wrong reasons, does that Prakash still have a place in her heart?

Narrated by 4 charachters, it is a beautifully told story. Emotions, insecurities, expectations and even our cultural baggage which moderates the way people think and behave is brought out really well. A poignant tale, beautifully told. The title is especially relevant too- through out the story, even at the very end.

I really liked Anjali’s character who after her initial conformation to tradition, and expectations, decided to chart her own way, despite the resistance from her own family. Fighting the odds, she lives her life, in the best way she can, without the bitterness that might have come with the trials she faced. Her husband Sandeep is another character you start feeling for. A book that had me crying.

I would heavily recommend this book, and would be looking out for her other books.