Sunday, July 10, 2011
Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.
Returning to India is an overwhelming experience for Priya. When she was growing up, summer was all about mangoes—ripe, sweet mangoes, bursting with juices that dripped down your chin, hands, and neck. But after years away, she sweats as if she’s never been through an Indian summer before. Everything looks dirtier than she remembered. And things that used to seem natural (a buffalo strolling down a newly laid asphalt road, for example) now feel totally chaotic.
But Priya’s relatives remain the same. Her mother and father insist that it’s time they arranged her marriage to a “nice Indian boy.” Her extended family talks of nothing but marriage—particularly the marriage of her uncle Anand, which still has them reeling. Not only did Anand marry a woman from another Indian state, but he also married for love. Happiness and love are not the point of her grandparents’ or her parents’ union. In her family’s rule book, duty is at the top of the list.
Just as Priya begins to feel she can’t possibly tell her family that she’s engaged to an American, a secret is revealed that leaves her stunned and off-balance. Now she is forced to choose between the love of her family and Nick, the love of her life.
As sharp and intoxicating as sugarcane juice bought fresh from a market cart, The Mango Season is a delightful trip into the heart and soul of both contemporary India and a woman on the edge of a profound life change. -- Ballantine
This month, my Skype book club decided to read THE MANGO SEASON by Amulya Malladi. I was extremely excited about this selection since I love books that take place in India, and I had read another one of Ms. Malladi's books and loved it. The title and cover of this novel were just screaming out to me -- both are absolutely gorgeous. Needless to say, I entered this book with some pretty high expectations.
Unfortunately, I think my expectations might have been just a tad bit too high. I wish I had picked up this book expecting a more chick-lit type of story. Instead, I had the idea that THE MANGO SEASON would be this amazing book about India and its culture. And while this book did delve into some of these issues, I felt as if the book was full of stereotypes and I was left wanting for more.
And this totally goes back to my expectations, but I was disappointed in (what I consider) a missed opportunity for this novel to be really special. The title references the mango season in India, and I expected the mango theme to run throughout the novel. I loved how the author described mangoes and how the entire family worked to prepare the mangoes for specific recipes; and I thought she did a great job with the imagery... initially. However, it seemed like the mango theme kind of tuckered out by the end of the story. Maybe it's because I love anything mango, but I thought Ms. Malladi could have used the mango symbol so much more effectively than she did. Having said that, I did love that the book did include so many references to food and recipes. There were even a wide variety of Indian recipes at the beginning of many of the chapters. I so wanted to visit my neighbor's Indian restaurant the entire time I was reading this book.
Another issue I had with this novel was the "surprise" ending. I never really felt an affinity with Priya (and that's probably one of my problems with this book); but by the end of the story, when she dumped a huge surprise on her family, I was downright irked with her. Just when it seemed like the entire family had come to terms with Priya's choices (and secrets), the reader discovers that Priya had only told part of the story. On one hand, I was mad at the character because I didn't feel as if she really changed, but on the other hand, I was disappointed with the author for using this trick. I just didn't think the book needed it.
While I admit to being slightly underwhelmed by THE MANGO SEASON, that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy this book on some level. It was a quick and entertaining read and I do think I saw some insight into the Indian culture. I enjoyed how the author described the various characters even though I'm not sure I liked very many of them. And I couldn't help but love the food references. Overall, I'd say that I was entertained by this story -- it was funny and the cast of characters was interesting to say the least. I was just hoping for more -- and that's probably partially my fault.
Despite my misgivings, I did think THE MANGO SEASON was an interesting discussion book. There is a reading guide included in the back of my book with 23 questions. With that many questions, there is no doubt that this novel is perfect for discussion. Some of the themes that you might want to explore include racism, family dynamics, cultural differences, tradition, mother/daughter relationships, secrets, and happiness.
I'm worried that my review of THE MANGO SEASON might leave a bitter taste in your mouth, and I hope that's not the case. I didn't dislike this book by any means -- I just thought it had so much potential. Having said all of this, I did love the other book I read by Ms. Malladi; and I definitely want to read her other novels which all have very high reader ratings.
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