Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Mango Season - Amulya Malladi

Title: The Mango Season
Author: Amulya Malladi
Rating: B-
Pages: 229 pgs.

The storyline is nothing particularly imaginative. Priya has lived in America for the last seven years and finally embarks on a long-overdue visit home to Hyderabad, India. She comes home bearing gifts and a secret: an American fiancee. The story largely consists the few days in her visit when she struggles to tell her family about her new life, and new love.

I was not very impressed. I got the strong impression that Amulya does not look highly upon her homeland. I know what it is like to live out away from your country of origin for years at a time. You don't forget your culture that quickly, as Priya supposedly did. She struggles in a salwar kameez and other components of everyday life were not very believeable.

All of the stereotypical components were present: arranged marriages, racism, prejudice, caste system, gender discrimination. To include such highly controversial topics, the novel remained overwhelmingly superficial. I was particularly disappointed in the lack of complexity and depth that Amulay gave Priya's mother. She was present in most scenes, yet at the end of the novel I barely knew her at all. I don't think it would be a good thing if this book was read by someone who had never read an Indian novel, and knew nothing about Indian culture. It's not a good starting point.

What redeemed the story, and garnered my decent rating, was its descriptions in the kitchen. Much of the novel takes place in Priya's Ammamma's home, while creating delicious dishes utilizing the abundant mangos at the height of the mango season (except I thought mango season was May, not July?). It was a delight to partake in the juicy and tasty descriptions of a group of women getting together to make mango pickle. My mouth watered while reading about a summer lunch consisting of avial, pappu, potato curry, rice, and cold yogurt. Mmmm. The recipe additions were a nice touch. It made me miss the great meals I had while visiting Madras in Tamil Nadu. It is hard to find South Indian cuisine here.

"'Are you saying my mangoes are bad?' Ma asked instantly, her eyes blazing, a knife held firmly in her hand. Warrior Pickle Woman was ready to defend her mangoes."

"The man was a bigot, racist, a chauvinist, and generally too arrogant for anyone's liking, yet I loved him. Family never came in neat little packages with warranty signs on them."

"India was not just a country you visited, it was a country that sank into your blood and stole a part of you."

New words learned:
Idli: A snack popular in South Indian states. The batter is usually made from pulses or rice and often paired with sambar or chutney.
Bidi: Smaller than a cigarette, bidi's are made of tobacco wrapped in a tendu leaf.
Mallepullu: fresh jasmine

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