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Authors: Amulya Malladi

Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Literary, #Cultural Heritage, #General

The Mango Season

BOOK: The Mango Season
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Praise for
A Breath of Fresh Air

“[Malladi] draws us into the novel with her characters, who are refreshingly free of stereotype. . . . Their voices are clear and strong, each one carefully modulated to be different, and as the book progresses, they surprise us [with] their reactions to events and to each other. Malladi has successfully managed to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in her handling of emotional material—a near-fatal accident, a child’s mortal illness, a spouse’s infidelity. And that is no mean achievement for a first-time novelist.”

—CHITRA DIVAKARUNI,
Los Angeles Times

“This first novel by Amulya Malladi, born and raised in India, gets off to a gripping start. . . . In simple language, Malladi tells a simple story of love, betrayal, jealousy, guilt, and forgiveness. . . . A glimpse into a foreign culture is always a treat, and this novel combines that with characters with whom we can empathize, as they deal with universal problems and emotions. . . . A fast and fascinating read.” —United Press International (UPI), Book of the Week

“[A novel] about women struggling to come into their own in modern India. . . . Malladi’s writing style is unadorned and simple. . . . She sketches some remarkable women . . . and unlike many women-centric novels where the men are beasts or spineless, Malladi treats her male characters with compassion.”


San Francisco Chronicle

“A well-balanced, pitch-perfect novel you’ll read in a few sittings. Open a box of Kleenex when you come to the end.”

—SHAUNA SINGH BALDWIN, author of
What the Body Remembers

“In this accomplished debut novel, Malladi depicts believable and well-defined characters facing tumultuous circumstances with grace and sensitivity, passion and pride.” —
Booklist

“Debut novelist Malladi deserves credit for illuminating a troubling aspect of Indian culture. . . . Anjali is an admirable heroine, and women will relate to her heartbreak as the mother of a dying child.” —
Publishers Weekly

“A plainspoken reverie about love and destiny. A terrible accident gives the story a sense of life’s inexorable cruelty, but the brilliance and steadfastness of Malladi’s characters elevate them, and carry them beyond their tragic circumstances into a kind of fabulous Greek timelessness. The story of Anjali’s star-crossed marriages zips the reader along, but although the book is a quick read, it’s also deep. This book is ostensibly about India, but really, it is about everywhere.” —AMY WILENTZ, author of
Martyr’s Crossing

“Amulya Malladi’s pure voice pulled me right into the heart of this tale of the Indian woman Anjali and her family. Her story made me nod my head in agreement, and grind my teeth in anger, and it broke my heart with its clear look at the consequences of our shared human imperfections and our attempts to rise above them.
A Breath of Fresh Air
is a gift for all of us in these complicated times.”

—NANCY THAYER, author of
Custody
and
Between Husbands and Friends

“[A] first novel about an Indian woman haunted by the Bhopal tragedy . . . This is absorbing stuff, particularly Anjali’s struggles as a contemporary woman in India.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Here again is an instance of a novelist taking what could be the humdrum details of family heartbreak and raising them to the level of clear-eyed, well-crafted art. . . . Malladi writes dispassionately and yet movingly of love and destiny in modern India . . . a portrait of modern Indian life that is complex, fraught with morals and customs that are in many cases outmoded and in all cases difficult to navigate. Malladi writes with a steady, sure hand; accumulating details casually, she catches the reader unaware with the depth of her insight into love and loss.” —
St. Petersburg Times

“Gemlike . . . the quality of Malladi’s writing elevates
A Breath of
Fresh Air
well above standard issue . . . a fine study of the tenuous control we have over love and memory.” —
San Francisco Weekly

“A lovely . . . novel about a spirited woman in contemporary India . . . and about the convolutions and contrariness and surprises and disasters of that phenomenon we like to call True Love.”

—ANN LAFARGE,
The Voice Ledger

“The story is rich with insight into Indian culture and psychology, while it presents truths that are universal.” —
The Calgary Sun

“Sensitive and moving first novel.” —Toronto
Sun


A Breath of Fresh Air
is—well—a breath of fresh air. . . . Reads breezily, thanks to the author’s refreshingly simple prose. Which is not to say there aren’t layers of meaning that enrich the tale. . . . A vivid picture of modern relationships in her native land. [Malladi] excels when she examines with clarity the differing emotions of all four protagonists.” —
The Santa Fe New Mexican

Praise for
The Mango Season

“With humor and grace, Amulya Malladi has constructed a family story in which the heroine must make the difficult choice between the traditional and the modern. Malladi is a writer of great promise.”

—BHARTI KIRCHNER, author of
Darjeeling and Pastries: A Novel of Desserts
and Discoveries

“Amulya Malladi has the ability to get so close to ordinary life that her words effortlessly transform themselves into art with pitch-perfect prose fed by an observant eye and a warm heart. . . . Malladi is a born storyteller with an expansive and satisfying vision of the meaning of love.” —LAURA PEDERSEN, author of
Beginner’s Luck

“A fast, compelling read that speaks to all of us who have dared to break from the norm.” —
Heart and Soul
magazine

“In this passionately told story . . . Priya’s frustration, her family’s desires, and the heat during the mango season are all well conveyed . . . a fascinating look at contemporary India. Strongly recommended.”
—Library Journal

“Malladi submerges the reader in fascinating cultural traditions and rich foods garnished with saucy humor.” —
Booklist

“A welcome second [novel] from Malladi . . . nicely seasoned: The spice of atmosphere and geography livens up a family saga and gives a fresh twist to a typical coming-of-age tale.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Touches on a very human conflict with delicacy and humor. Miss Malladi makes Priya’s ambivalence understandable and powerful . . . a lovely novel.”
—The Washington Times

“A gentle, attractive novel with a great atmospheric feeling of India and its customs. Beautifully written and very easy to read.”


Publishing News,
UK

“A dramatic portrait of a modern woman’s anguish over her inability to blend her two worlds. The story is told with beautiful word pictures. Malladi’s imagery makes one thirst for a juicy topping of HAPPINESS to end the story, a rich ripe mango. For insight into the Hindu world,
The Mango Season
is highly recommended.” —
Bookreporter.com

“Entertaining light read.” —
AsianWeek.com

“An informative as well as entertaining novel filled with interesting situations that highlight the rules of marriage and the importance of the institution in Indian society.”

—Charleston
Post and Courier

“A lush, beautifully written novel of contemporary India . . . a glorious celebration of life and love.” —
The Bookseller,
UK

“Like the strong and unconventional Anjali in
A Breath of Fresh
Air,
Amulya Malladi in her second novel provides us with yet another female character who fights her own battles and emerges scathed but victorious. . . . Well written with balanced portions of traditional tugs and contemporary needs, conviction and concern,
The Mango Season
is a work of soul searching, decision making, and strength building.” —
India Currents

Also by Amulya Malladi

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY

For Søren and Tobias,
for all that I am and all that I hope to be

Acknowledgments

My deepest thanks to Søren for being my first reader and listener, Tobias for taking naps, my wonderful in-laws, Ruth and Ejgil, for giving us refuge and me a place to write, and to all my family in Denmark for their warm welcome, love and generosity.

I am truly grateful to Allison Dickens, Wonderful Editor, for making this book better than it was when it left my hard drive and for helping me out during a difficult time; and to Nancy Miller for her continuing support and confidence in me. I will always be indebted to Heather Smith, Amazing Publicist, for patiently putting up with all my hysterical phone calls and email.

A very special thanks to Jody Pryor, Alaskan, friend and fellow writer, for reading a draft of this book through a night and giving me some brilliant advice because I needed her to; special thanks also to Matt Bailer, Kelly Lynch, Milly Marmur, Susan Orbuch, and Priya Raghupathi for enriching this book with their advice and insight.

I took advantage of Steven Deutsch’s sense of humor in coming up with the first sentence of this book; of Radhika Kasichainula’s memory in remembering where everything in Hyderabad was; and of Shanthi Nambakkam’s hospitality when I was last in the United States—I thank them for their generosity.

And lastly, a big thanks to Arjun Karavadi for his critique, honesty and friendship, and for being available to me regardless of the time difference between Chicago and Denmark.

Prologue

Happiness Is a Mango

Don’t kill yourself if you get pregnant, was my mother’s advice to me when I was fifteen years old and a classmate of mine was rumored to have committed suicide because she was with child.

Along with the firm advice that I shouldn’t commit suicide was the advice—or rather the order—that I shouldn’t have sex until I was married and that I should marry the man of her choice, not mine.

Even though I was raised in a society where arranged marriage was the norm, I always thought it was barbaric to expect a girl of maybe twenty-one years to marry a man she knew even less than the milkman who, for the past decade, had been mixing water with the milk he sold her family.

I had escaped arranged marriage by coming to the United States to do a master’s in Computer Sciences at Texas A&M, by conveniently finding a job in Silicon Valley, and then by inventing several excuses to not go to India.

Now, seven years later, I had run out of excuses.

“What are you looking forward to the most?” Nick asked, as we were parked on the 101-South carpool lane on our way to the San Francisco International Airport.

“HAPPINESS,” I said without hesitation.

Summer, while I was growing up, was all about mangoes. Ripe, sweet mangoes that dripped juices down your throat, down your neck. The smell of a ripe mango would still evoke my taste buds, my memories, and for a while I would be a child again and it would be a hot summer day in India.

There was more to a mango than taste. My brother Natarajan, whom we all called Nate because it was faster to pronounce, and I, would always fight over the sticky stone at the center of the mango. If Ma was planning to chop one mango for lunch, the battle for the stone would begin at breakfast. Sucking on the sticky stone while holding it with bare hands was the most pleasurable thing one could do with a mango. Nate and I called the mango stone HAPPINESS.

HAPPINESS was a concept. A feeling. Triumph over a sibling. I had forgotten all about HAPPINESS until Nick’s rather pertinent question.

“It’s like drinking a pint of Guinness in the office after tax season,” I said in explanation when he didn’t seem to grasp the fundamentals of HAPPINESS.

Nick the accountant nodded his head in total understanding. “But there isn’t going to be much HAPPINESS in your trip once you tell the family about the handsome
and
humble American you’re involved with.”

When I first came to the United States, if anyone had told me I would be dating, living with, engaged to an American, I would have scoffed. Seven years later, I wore a pretty little diamond on my ring finger and carried in my heart the security only a good relationship could provide.

When Nick dropped me off at the international terminal he made sure I had my papers and passport. Careful, caring Accountant Nick!

“Off you go,” he said with a broad smile. “And call me once you get there.”

He wanted to come with me to India. “To meet your family, see your country,” he had said, and I gave him a look reserved for the retarded. He must be joking, I thought. How could he be serious? Hadn’t I told him time and again that my family was as conservative as his was liberal and that he would be lynched and I would be burned alive for bringing him, a foreigner, my lover, to my parents’ home?

“Off I go,” I said reluctantly, and leaned against him, my black leather bag’s strap sagging against my shoulder. “I’ll check email from Nate’s computer. If I can’t call, I’ll write.”

I didn’t want to go. I had to go.

I didn’t want to go. I had to go.

The twin realities were tearing me apart.

I didn’t want to go because as soon as I got there, my family would descend on me like vultures on a fresh carcass, demanding explanations, reasons, and trying to force me into marital harmony with some “nice Indian boy.”

I had to go because I had to tell them that I was marrying a “nice American man.”

All Indian parents who see their children off to the Western world have a few fears and the following orders:

Do not eat beef. (The sacred cow is your mother!)

Do not get too friendly with foreign people; you cannot trust them. Remember what the English did to us.

Cook at home; there is no reason to eat out and waste money.

Save money.

Save money.

Save money.

DO NOT FIND YOURSELF SOME FOREIGN MAN/ WOMAN TO MARRY.

Even though the “do not marry a foreigner” order would usually be last on the list, it was the most important one on the list. Any of the other sins the parents could live with; a foreign daughter- or son-in-law was blasphemous.

“If they try to get you married to some nice Indian boy, remember that there’s no such thing and you’re engaged to a nice American man who dotes on you,” Nick joked.

“According to them you’re just another corrupt Westerner and I’d be better off with a nice Indian boy,” I countered.

“I’m sure you’ll convince them otherwise,” Nick said, and then hugged me. “You’ll be fine. They’ll yell and scream for a while and then . . . What can they do? You’re a grown woman.”

“Maybe my plane will crash and I won’t have to tell them at all,” I said forlornly, and he kissed me, laughing.

Nick waved when I looked back at him after I crossed security and entered the international terminal.

I waved back, the brave soldier that I was, and walked toward the plane that was going to take me home to India, mangoes, and hopefully HAPPINESS.

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