Amulya Malladiís novel, ďA Breath of Fresh AirĒ is a literary page-turner. The novel starts, in a shroud of mystery, at an unforgettable time and place in history, Bhopal, 1984. A woman is waiting at a railway station for her husband. The fact that he doesnít show up changes their lives forever. From the very beginning, Amulya avoids the first-time novelistís pitfall of revealing too much. The reader is eager for more information about the protagonist, Anjali, and the circumstances that lead her to be one of Union Carbideís gas leak victims.
We fast forward many years later to a vegetable bazaar in Ooty. The sights and sounds of the bazaar are the background for another important scene in Anjaliís life. She meets her first husband and the woman who is living the life she should have had. She returns to her home where her sister-in-law Komal nags her mercilessly, to the son who is sick.
Anjali marries her first husband Prakesh just to be an army officerís wife. She discovers soon that parties are not all that fun and that her husband married her for a motive worse than hers. By the time we see her in her second marriage, there is no place for frivolity in her life. She is a different woman from the one who thoughtlessly plunged into one marriage. She has a sick son who is dying. She has to work as a teacher to make enough money to pay her sonís medical bills. She must do most of the housework in addition to putting up with the ungrateful Komal. We feel her physical and emotional burden.
One accidental meeting with Prakesh leads to a planned meeting by him at her school. By the time she returns home, gossip about them has reached Komalís ears. She feels the need to explain his presence to her husband and when she does, he doesnít want to listen. His goodness frustrates her but his love for her allows the reader to breath with some measure of relief through the novel. Despite the happiness of the second marriage, Anjali asks herself if she has done the right thing by leaving her first husband and she is wistful about the life left behind.
Amulya, in clear straightforward prose, weaves past and present together to narrate a compelling story about issues that are not fresh but sparkle nonetheless because of her dramatic treatment of them. Her plot could easily have deteriorated into a melodrama. But though there is plenty of emotion and scenes where characters could have spoken like soap opera characters she keeps them reined in. We finish the novel with our own long drawn out breath after we have the answers to the questions that propelled us forward and absorbed us completely.
Tara Menon's adult fiction and children's stories have been published in journals and anthologies. She is currently working on a novel. She lives in Lexington with her husband and son.
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