From the acclaimed author of A Breath of Fresh Air, this beautiful novel takes us to modern India during the height of the summer’s mango season. Heat, passion, and controversy explode as a woman is forced to decide between romance and tradition.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
About Amulya Malladi
Amulya Malladi has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in journalism. Born and raised in India, she lived in the United States for several years before moving to Denmark, where she now lives on the island of… More about Amulya Malladi
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Published by Ballantine Books Dec 18, 2007| 272 Pages| ISBN 9780307417237
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“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
From the Hardcover edition.
A Conversation with Amulya Malladi Amulya Malladi and Priya Raghupathi, a business analyst from New Jersey, have known each other for many, many years. They went to engineering school together in India and have remained friends, through job changes, moves to different countries, marriage, and children. Amulya borrowed Priya’s name for the protagonist of The Mango Season, as well as some of her emotions, though that is still murky.
Amulya Malladi: Well, this is vaguely uncomfortable, talking about something that must make sense after the conversation is over.
Priya Raghupathi: Oh, I don’t know, I’ll turn the floor over to you, as the phrase goes.
AM: Ah, but you have to talk about the book and ask me questions about it, because I already did my job. I wrote the book.
PR: Okay, let’s start with the names in The Mango Season. They were all very familiar.
AM: Names as in, the names of the people?
AM: Hmm, I did notice that . . . but later on. I know different writers write differently, but I need to have the title of the book in place. I can think about the book, even write a few pages but if I don’t have a title, I can’t move on. And the title just comes; I don’t work very hard at it. Same with names of characters, my fingers just type the names and I settle down with them. I don’t secondguess myself too much.
PR: We’ve heard all these names in our close circles.
AM: I think I borrowed a lot of names from people I knew. I didn’t realize that I was borrowing your name for Priya until later when I started to read the blurb of the book and saw that she went to Texas A&M and so did you. I did get some hints when Priya’s brother’s name started out to be your brother’s name but I changed it without thinking much. And maybe there were connections that came from our time together in Hyderabad, as Neelima was also the name of your roommate (and I didn’t realize that until right now). I did quote another classmate of ours, Sudhir, in the book and used his name. Ashwin, Priya’s father’s name, came from an ex-boyfriend’s brother’s name. Ah . . . the list is endless. Even, Priya’s boyfriend’s name came from an unusual place. One of my husband’s friends had a baby boy and they didn’t give the kid a name until he was almost six months old. And I think I was working on the book when my husband told me they finally named their son Nicholas. And I used it. I don’t “steal” names consciously. Later on I can draw lines and make sense of it, but right then and there . . . it’s just something that works out.
PR: You also have a lot of references to the Bay Area and Hyderabad, places you’ve been. Do you write only about places you’ve been to? Even in your first book, you wrote about Bhopal, a place you were familiar with.
AM: I think it’s easier to write about a place you’ve lived in. The research element definitely shrinks and you can write more confi- dently. I also feel I have an obligation to write about a place I’ve lived in. I have moved a lot in my life, as a child and even as an adult, and I just feel that it would be such a waste if I wouldn’t write about the places I have lived in. My third book, Serving Crazy with Curry is set completely in the Bay Area, while the book after that is going to be set entirely in India in this small town by the Bay of Bengal that I was familiar with when I was a child. And now that I live in Denmark, I feel I must write a book set in Denmark with Danes. After all, I am so intimate with this society, not just because I live here, but also because I’m married to a Dane.
PR: And I also think because you’ve lived in these places you relate with them and don’t make up stuff.
AM: I don’t mind making up stuff, especially about a place. After all, I’m writing fiction, not a travel book. But I’d rather not make up stuff.
PR: I guess writers do write about places they know. Hemingway did go to Spain a lot when he wrote his books with that backdrop.
AM: Even Naipaul does that. He writes about Africa and Indian immigrants who live there. Amy Tan writes about American Chinese characters who live in China and the San Francisco Bay Area.Maybe writers like to revisit the places they have lived in, the experiences they have had there. For me writing The Mango Season was like taking a trip to India. I’d forgotten how good chaat tastes, or how good ganna juice tastes and when I was writing about it I could all but smell that sugarcane juice. I miss sugarcane juice! I remember how you and I would get off the bus from college and eat roadside chaat and indulge in a tall glass of sugarcane juice. Our mothers were never too pleased about us eating and drinking that junk. Never stopped us, though, even when we fell sick because of it.
PR: Speaking of food, you know I found something similar between your book and Like Water for Chocolate, that you put recipes before every chapter, or almost every chapter.
AM: Well, food is an integral part of Indian society.When we go to visit my parents, my mother will ask us to sit and eat even before we have set our bags down.Whenever I’d go to visit relatives, I’d find myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen with someone or the other, watching them cook or helping them cook. And I love to cook. So, even though Priya (not you, the book one) isn’t a great cook, I think she appreciates good food because she grew up with it. And I wanted to show the kitchen dynamics and politics as well. A lot of women in one kitchen, there has to be some masala there. The Mango Season is nowhere as brilliant as Like Water for Chocolate, which is one of those books where the lines between reality and fantasy blur and the end result is a beautifully written story.
PR: Like Water for Chocolate is like a water painting with no de- fined lines. When you look at something, you think it’s sort of a tree but it could also be part of the mountain behind it.
AM: That’s a fabulous way of putting it. Laura Esquivel does have that magic touch. I’d like to be like her when I grow up.
PR: When I first read The Mango Season, I thought, “Why is everybody sounding so emotional? Do we really talk like this in India? We definitely don’t talk like this in the U.S.” And then I thought about it some. In the U.S. you try to stay politically correct and calm and balanced. Even with family and friends. But when you go back to India you realize that people say exactly what they think. They do tend to get more visibly upset. And the bad part is if you stay there long enough it can start rubbing off on you.
AM: Was everyone emotional in the book? Probably. Well, it’s a matter of time and place. Priya has come home after seven years and she has something to say that no one is going to like to hear.Her parents want her to get married and they’d prefer to somehow do it without her permission. At Priya’s grandparents’ house there is a lot of tension because of what the sex of Lata’s baby will be, and they’re trying to get their youngest daughter, Sowmya, married. After years of trying and not succeeding, that is a matter of constant concern. And then there is the continuing battle over Anand and the fact that he married a woman out of his caste. They are all emotional because of the conflict-laden atmosphere they are in. I don’t think it’s a matter of being politically correct or not, it’s just a matter of what the situation is. People are not extra polite with family because of the societal need to be PC. I think families are families and every family has a different dynamic. I know several American and Danish families where the conversations get loud and direct; feelings are bruised and mended, same as any other family. But you’re absolutely right about Indians being direct and emotional. I feel that most Indians don’t have filters. They say what they mean and what they feel, without paying much heed to who will be hurt and how much. And yes, Indians are very emotional as well and I have seen it very clearly depicted when I interact with Americans and Europeans.We feel too much and we react so strongly.My Danish family probably thinks I am a little cuckoo because I go off the deep end very easily and often.
PR: Another thought I had was that things seemed to tie up a bit too nicely at the end. Do you feel like books are better when there is sorting out at the end? Do you foresee writing a book where you stop at “Well. So that’s how things are. They didn’t get any better or change and there you have it. Such is life.”Not necessarily a sad ending but rather a non ending.
AM: I don’t know if things did get tied up too nicely. Her grandparents and parents are still fighting over Priya’s choice of a husband. She’s still not able to tell them that Nick is black and when they find out, it’s obviously going to be considered yet another betrayal. I actually wanted to leave things to show that this is how it’s going to continue. She’ll never have her parents’ full support and they will always find something to complain about, and she will probably give them enough reason.
From personal experience, I know that my marrying a Dane was not well received by my parents and even though, finally, it came down to, “You have to do what you have to do and you don’t listen to us anyway,” we’re not all living like one big happy family. Sure, there are other reasons why my parents and I don’t get along, but I think one of the reasons is that I’m married to a man they didn’t approve of. And I think Priya will probably have the same experience. Regarding if books should have a nicely wrapped-up ending or not, it depends upon the book. Sometimes I read a book and the ending is left hanging and I feel it’s done for effect and not because the story demanded it. Sometimes it’s nice that the author didn’t tie it all up. But again that is a personal choice based on how a reader reacts to a story. Take Gone with the Wind. I’m sure there were readers who wished that at the end Rhett and Scarlet would hold hands and walk into the sunset, while I was pretty happy with the ending and thought that was the only way the book could end.
PR: Strange isn’t it? After all those years, so many things have changed—our lives, our careers, and yet here we are . . .
AM: We’ve known each other . . . oh, since we were in diapers. I think it’s rather nice that you and I can still have a conversation about this or anything else. I have found that I have lost touch with many of my friends from the old college days, yet you and I have managed to hold on and have some semblance of a friendship. Thank you so much for doing this with me.When my editor said that I could do the Q&A with you, I was quite thrilled that we could work on a joint project like this and it has been absolutely wonderful!
PR: I agree. This has been fun. I’m really happy for you, and as always, my love and best wishes are with you.