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  • Written by Amulya Malladi
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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41723-7
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Use Your Senses

It was overpowering, the smell of mangoes--some fresh, some old, some rotten. With a large empty coconut straw basket, I followed my mother as she stopped at every stall in the massive mango bazaar. They had to taste a certain way; they had to be sour and they had to be mangoes that would not turn sweet when ripened. The mangoes that went into making mango pickle were special mangoes. It was important to use your senses to pick the right batch. You tasted one mango and you relied upon that one mango to tell you what the other mangoes from the same tree tasted like.

"No, no." My mother shook her head at the man sitting in a dirty white dhoti and kurta. His skin was leathery around his mouth and there were deep crevices around his eyes. His face spoke volumes about his life, the hardships, the endless days under the relentless sun selling his wares, sometimes mangoes, sometimes something else, whatever was in season. He was chewing betel leaves, which he spat out at regular intervals in the area between his stall and the one next to him.

"Amma," the man said with finality, as he licked his cracked lips with a tongue reddened by betel leaves. "Ten rupees a k-g, enh, take it or leave it."

My mother shrugged. "I can get them for seven a kilo in Abids."

The man smiled crookedly. "This is Monda Market, Amma. The price here is the lowest. And all these, enh"--he spread his hand over the coconut straw baskets that held hundreds of mangoes--"taste the same."

That had to be a stretch, but I didn't say anything, didn't want to get embroiled in this particular discussion. I stood mute next to my mother, patiently waiting for the ordeal to be over. My light pink salwar kameez was dirty and I was sweating as if I had never been through an Indian summer before. But I had been through twenty Indian summers, and now seven years later, I was having trouble acclimating to my homeland.

I pushed damp sweaty hair off my forehead and tried to tuck it inside my short ponytail. I had cut my hair a few years ago and stuck to the shoulder length hairdo. My mother had been appalled when I sent her pictures and had bemoaned the loss of my waist-length black hair.

"You go to America and you want to look like those Christian girls. Why, what is wrong with our way? Doesn't a girl look nice with long, oiled hair with flowers in it? Even when you were here, you didn't want the nice mallipulu, fresh jasmine, I would string. Always wanted to look like those . . . Short hair and nonsense," she had complained on the phone before thrusting the phone in my father's hands.

I would have preferred to wear a pair of shorts to ward off the tremendous heat but Ma instantly rebelled at the idea. "Wearing shorts in Monda Market? Are you trying to be an exhibitionist? We don't do that here."

Since I had arrived three days ago I had heard that many times. "We don't do that here." As if I didn't know what we did or did not do. I was "we."

My mother picked up a mango and asked the mango seller to cut a slice. She handed the slice to me. "Here, taste," she instructed, and I looked, horrified, at the slimy piece of raw fruit thrust under my nose.

Was she out of her mind? Did she expect me to eat that?

"Here," she prodded again, and shoved it closer to my mouth and the strong smell of mango and its juices sank in. And memories associated with that distinct smell trickled in like a slow stream flowing over gently weathered stone.

I remembered stealing mangoes from the neighbor's tree and biting into them with the relish of a theft well done. I remembered sneaking into the kitchen at night to eat the mangoes Ma was saving for something or other. I remembered sitting with Nate and eating raw mangoes with salt and chili powder, our lips burning and our tongues smacking because of the tartness. Now, I couldn't imagine putting that piece of white and green fruit inside my mouth. It was not about taste, it was about hygiene, and suddenly everything everybody had warned me about India came true.

My Indian friends who visited India after living in the United States said: "Everything will look dirtier than it did before." I never thought myself to be so Americanized that I would cringe from eating a piece of mango that had languished in that man's basket where he had touched it with his hands and . . .

I shook my head when the man scratched his hair and used the same hand to find a piece of food between yellow teeth, while he waited for judgment to be passed on his mangoes.

Ma sighed elaborately and popped the piece of mango into her mouth. From her eyes I could see she was excited. From the myriad mangoes she had tasted all morning, this was the one that would be perfect for her pickle. But she was not going to let the mango seller know it. It was Haggling 101.

"They are okay," she said with a total lack of enthusiasm.

"Okay, enh?" The man frowned and slapped his thigh with his hand in disapproval. "Amma, these are the best pachadi mangoes in all of Monda Market. And"--he paused and smiled at me--"I will give them to you for nine rupees a kilo, enh?"

Ma waved a hand negligently, and memories of my mother bartering over everything came rushing back like a tidal wave. The worst of all incidents was when we were on vacation in Kullu Manali in Himachal Pradesh. It was a popular vacation spot in the Himalayas before Kashmir had become such an issue with Pakistan. In a bazaar in Manali, Ma was trying to buy a shawl; it was not just any shawl, this was an in-fashion and in-high-demand woolen shawl, which had different colors on each side. This was a blue and black shawl and Ma was haggling like she had never haggled before.

The bargaining had stopped over one single rupee. The man said fifty and Ma said forty-nine and they went on for ten minutes after which Ma just walked out of the store. I was about thirteen years old and unhappy that we had just spent half an hour haggling over something she was not going to buy. I didn't know that she was using another haggling tactic of walking out of the store and then being called in by the vendor who would then believe that she was serious about one rupee.

As I was dragged by the hand out of the shawl shop I cried out, "It is just one rupee, Ma, why do you have to be such a kanjoos?"

As soon as the word was out, I knew it was a mistake. Ma slapped me across the face in the center of the market and took me weeping and wailing back to our hotel.

She never forgave me for letting the entire marketplace know that she was haggling over one rupee or for the loss of the blue and black in-fashion and in-high-demand shawl. The vacation went to hell after that as Ma kept telling me how she was not a kanjoos, not a scrooge, and she was only trying to save money for our future, Nate's and mine. When I reminded her that she was buying the shawl for herself, I was awarded another sound slap. I sulked for the rest of the vacation and for a couple of weeks even after we got back home to Hyderabad.

Thanks to happy memories like that I never, ever, bargained. It was a relief that in the United States I didn't have to do it for groceries and clothes; everything came with a fixed price tag. And even when I went and bought my car, I didn't barter or bargain. The nice Volkswagen dealer gave me the price; I agreed and signed on the dotted line even as Nick insisted that I was being conned.

"You could get it for two thousand dollars less, at least," he told me when I was signing the loan papers.

"I like the car, I'm not going to fuss over it," I told him firmly, and Accountant Nick's eyes went snap-snap open in shock.

And that was that. Nick told me that from now on, when I wanted a new car, I should tell him what I wanted and he would buy it. "Getting conned while buying tomatoes in India is one thing, but when you buy a car it's criminal to not negotiate," he said.

But to haggle equated being like my mother and I was never, ever, going to be like my mother.

The mango seller picked out two more mangoes and set them in front of Ma. "Try more. See, they are all the same," he challenged eagerly, in an attempt to convince her.

Ma ignored the mangoes he chose and pulled out one at random from the basket in question. The man cut a slice off with his knife. Ma tasted the piece of mango and instead of swallowing it, spit it out in the general direction of the ground.

"Eight rupees," she said, as she wiped her mouth with the edge of her dark blue cotton sari.

"Eight-fifty," he countered.

"Eight," she prodded and the man made a face, a "since-you-twist-my-arm" face.

"Okay," he sighed, then looked at me. "She drives a hard bargain, enh? I am not going to make any money on this sale."

I made an "I-have-no-say-in-this" face and put the straw basket I was holding in front of him.

"How many kilos?" he asked, and I gasped when my mother said twenty.

How on earth were we, two women with no muscles to speak of, going to carry twenty kilos of mangoes all by ourselves?

I found out soon enough.

It was excruciating. Ma pulled the edge of her sari around her waist and heaved to lift one side of the basket, while I lifted the other. We looked like Laurel and Hardy, tilting the basket, almost losing the goods inside as we paraded down the narrow crowded aisles of Monda Market.

We reached the main road and set the basket down on the dusty pavement. My mother looked at me and shook her head in distaste. "We will have to go home and you will have to change before we go to Ammamma's. I can't take you looking like this and we have to take clothes for tomorrow anyway."

We were all meeting at my grandmother's house to make mango pickle. It was a yearly ritual and everyone was pleased that I had come to India at the right time. I regretted my decision dearly. If I had to pick a month, it should have been anything but blistering July. I was glad that Nick wasn't there with me because he would have melted to nothingness in this heat.

I wiped my neck with a handkerchief and stuck it inside my purse. I probably smelled like a dead rat because I felt like one. My body was limp and the sun blazed down at eight in the morning as if in its zenith.

A whole day at my grandmother's house scared me. The potential for disaster was immense. I had no idea how I was going to tiptoe around the numerous land mines that I was sure had been laid out for the family gathering, as they usually were. When I was young it hadn't mattered much. I used to find a way to block out the bickering and the noise. But now I was an adult and I was expected to join in the bickering and contribute to the noise. I was hardly prepared for either. In addition, I had to break my not-so-good news to one and all--land mines would multiply.

It had just been three days, but I was already tired of being in India, at home, and especially tired of my mother. My father and I got along well, but when it came to taking sides between his children and his wife, Nanna knew which side his idli was smeared with ghee. According to him, Ma was always right.

When Nate and I were younger and fought with Ma, Nanna would always support her. His logic was quite simple: "You will leave someday," he would say. "She is all I have got and I don't want to eat at some cheap Udupi restaurant for the rest of my life. She is right and you are wrong--always, end of discussion."

Calling my mother a nag was not a stretch--she was a super nag. She could nag the hell out of anyone and do it with appalling innocence.

"No autos," Ma complained airily, and looked at me as if I was somehow to blame for the lack of auto rickshaws. "Why don't you try and get one," she ordered, as we stood on the roadside, unhappy in the skin-burning heat, a large basket of mangoes standing slightly lopsided between us on the uneven footpath.

I waved for a while without success. Finally, a yellow and black three-wheeler stopped in front of us, missing my toes that were sticking out of my Kohlapuri slippers by inches.

With her usual panache Ma haggled over the fare with the auto rickshaw driver. They finally decided on twenty-five rupees and we drove home holding the mango basket between us, making sure none of the precious green fruits rolled away.

The road was bumpy and the auto rickshaw moved in mysterious ways. I realized then that I couldn't drive in India. I would be dead in about five minutes flat. There were no rules; there never had been. You could make a U-turn anywhere, anytime you felt like it. Crossing a red light was not a crime. If a policeman caught you without your driver's license and registration papers, twenty to fifty rupees would solve your problem.

Everything that had seemed natural just seven years ago seemed unnatural and chaotic compared to what I had been living in and with in the United States.

The breeze was pleasant while the auto rickshaw moved, but the heat and the smell of the mangoes became intolerable when the auto rickshaw stopped at a red signal or for some other reason. There were many "other" reasons: stray cattle on the roads, frequent traffic jams, a couple of Maruti cars parked against each other in the middle of the road as the drivers passionately argued over whose mistake the accident was.

"If Ammamma had only given us mangoes like she did Lata, we wouldn't have this problem, now would we?" my mother said as the auto rickshaw leaped and jerked over a piece of missing road.


From the Hardcover edition.
Amulya Malladi|Author Q&A

About Amulya Malladi

Amulya Malladi - The Mango Season

Photo © Soren Rasmussen

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 Mors with her husband and two sons. You can contact her at www.amulyamalladi.com.

Author Q&A

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?

PR: Yes.

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.

AM: Well, that’s a wrap!

Praise

Praise

“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.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. What is the significance of the title The Mango Season? How
about the title of the prologue, “Happiness Is a Mango”? Why does
Amulya Malladi constantly refer to mangoes, and how does this
symbol resonate within the novel as a whole?

2. How is the constant reference to food significant to the unfolding
of the story? What does the inclusion of recipes add to the “flavor”
of the book?

3. In which ways does Priya embrace America upon her arrival
there? Which cultural traditions does she eschew?

4. Contrast Priya’s relationship to her mother with those she has
with her father and brother.Why do you think she finds it easier
to relate to the males in her family? What sets Priya and her
mother at odds?

5. Do you think that Priya should have told her family about
her engagement right away, perhaps even before her arrival in India?
Why doesn’t she? What larger problems does her reluctance to
discuss her romance indicate about Priya’s relationship with her
family?

6. What is your impression of Nick through Priya’s rendering of
him via her memories and their e-mail correspondence? What
characteristics are appealing about him?

7. What are Nick’s fears about Priya returning to India? Why does
he want to go with her? How are his worries borne out?

8. Why does Malladi disclose Nick’s race only at the end of The
Mango Season
? What hints does she sprinkle throughout the book
that he is black? Does this disclosure make a difference in your understanding
and perception of the novel?

9. How are Priya’s female relatives constrained by their places in
society? How do they chafe under these restrictions? Do any rebel,
and if so, how? What effect does Priya have on them, and in turn,
how do they influence her?

10. What spurs Sowmya to exact promises from her future husband
before she’s married? Does this surprise you, based on
Sowmya’s characterization at the beginning of the book?

11. “What can we do when someone takes your trust and throws
it away?” asks Priya’s mother (p. 39). How does this theme of
establishing—and losing—trust thread through the book? How
do Priya’s relatives trust and distrust her? In which ways has their
attitude infantilized her, and how has it made her stronger and
more independent?

12. “Happiness is such a relative term that it sometimes loses definition,”
Malladi writes (p. 56). How does Priya’s definition of
happiness evolve as the book unfolds? How would her parents de-
fine happiness differently from her?

13. Priya refers to the “two people inside me” (p. 69). How does
Priya seek to reconcile the two halves of her personality? Which
aspects of her character derive from her Indian upbringing?
Which from her choice to embrace America?

14. Is Nate indulged more than Priya by their parents? How does
he adapt to the strictures of Indian society, and within the family
structure in particular? How is he a modern figure, and how does
he feel a link to the past?

15. “Behind the façade . . . we were strangers to each other,” Priya
says of her family (p. 98). Is this statement an accurate representation
of her familial relationships? With whom in the family is
Priya most herself?

16. Why does Priya go through with the bride-seeing ceremony?
What about her might be attractive to Adarsh? What are the benefits
and disadvantages to having an arranged marriage?

17. How does Priya envision love and marriage? In which ways is
this an “American” view, and how is it influenced by her Indian
heritage? How does it contrast with the vision of her family in
India?

18. How does Thatha view Priya’s refusal to marry a handpicked
Indian beau? Do you believe that their relationship will ever recover?
Why were they close in the first place, despite their differences?

19. “You cannot make mango pickle with tomatoes,” Thatha says
to Priya (p. 170). How does this sum up his view of her relationship
with Nick? Does it also apply to any other relationships in the
book?

20. “I had to start living my own life on my own terms,” Priya says
(p. 142). Is this goal easier to accomplish when Priya is in the
United States? Why? Does being in India stifle her sense of self?

21. How does the theme of sacrifice thread throughout the book?
What sacrifices is Priya prepared to make for love? How does her
mother hold up her sacrifices to Priya, to force her daughter to accede
to her wishes? Ultimately, is this an effective technique?

22. How does racism, both against Indians and within the Indian
culture itself, influence the perceptions that the Indian characters
in the novel have of Americans? What else informs their perception
of blacks, whites, and “foreigners”? What slights do you think
Indians have felt based on the color of their skin?

23. Malladi deliberately leaves the ending of the novel ambiguous.
Why? What do you envision occurring once Priya’s family receives
the photograph of Nick?


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