Love is a Battlefield

I’ve talked several times about not growing up with people who looked, lived, or believed differently than I did, and that lack of diversity influenced my life. When it comes to family, though, it doesn’t matter where you grow up or how you’re raised; we can all relate to having familial disputes.

If there were ever a year for family disagreements, 2020 would smoke the competition. With a heated election, a pandemic, and racial conversations heightening all of the emotions, there are bound to be intense disagreements among family. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share in recent months.

So I was interested that varying viewpoints and morals between a daughter and her family served the focal point for Amulya Malladi’s The Mango Season. Traveling to a new country and reading about a culture completely different than my own made it that much more dynamic.

Priya Rao hasn’t visited her home country of India in seven years, not since she moved to San Francisco for grad school and for greater opportunities. She didn’t move to meet the love of her life and wasn’t even looking for love, but that’s exactly what she found in Nick who she met at random. Nick, who is not Indian and with whom she lives before getting married. Nick, who her family knows nothing about and who has gone from boyfriend to fiancé — still without her family’s knowledge.

Her recent engagement is exactly why she’s traveling back to India to visit her family. They believe in arranged marriage and that the only suitable partner is someone from your own caste and state. Being Indian isn’t up for debate. Nick does not meet these standards, but Priya knows she has to finally face her family and tell them about her relationship.

Over the span of a few days, Priya endures her family’s constant badgering about her love life and constant attempts to set her up. She also endures many arguments with them about racism, sexism, classism, and so much more as she realizes the person she’s become completely contradicts the person her family wants her to be, making it that much tougher to tell them about her relationship. But the longer she waits, the more she risks her loving relationships both with Nick and with her family.

“But it was still a man’s world and we women had to balance the fine line between familial responsibilities and our own needs.”

The mango season

I wouldn’t say The Mango Season is the most well-written novel I’ve read this year. Nothing about the writing sticks out and leaves me in awe for its incredible characteristics, but it is entertaining and enjoyable, and sometimes that’s all we need in a book.

“Standard fare, but nicely seasoned: The spice of atmosphere and geography livens up a family saga and gives a fresh twist to a typical coming-of-age tale,” wrote Kirkus Reviews.

That’s exactly how I felt while reading The Mango Season, which is why it was well on its way to receiving a full four flames — right up until the last chapter that is. Right as the book reached its conclusion, Malladi threw in an unexpected racial component that had not been foreshadowed. It’s not a racist remark and is hard to describe without giving too much away, but it feels almost as if she uses a certain race just to end the book with a big surprise. In 2020, it just didn’t sit right with me, and it was enough to lower a perfectly good book to three flames.

The previous 200 pages, though, were insightful, and Malladi opened my eyes to new perspectives and Indian culture, of which I know very little. I’ve only recently learned more in my current job where I have many Indian coworkers both in the U.S. and abroad, who have enriched my life. Of course, I have so much to learn and understand, and this novel enlightened me in more ways than one.

Even if you don’t share Priya’s culture, I’m guessing most people, especially millenials, will relate to her story and experiences, which is where this book derives most of its power. In particular, you can easily fill her shoes when it comes to disagreeing with family and the consequential feelings — even if you can’t relate to her specific circumstances. This scenario, like so many others in life, can’t be colored in black and white terms.

Western influences have Priya wanting to live life for herself without family obligations and morals weighing on her, but she can’t help but fear defying those who raised her. She can’t help but feel guilt at so many points whenever she speaks her mind and sticks up for herself and those she cares about. These feelings and the tensions with her family are palpable, and Malladi deserves credit for making you feel Priya’s emotions right along with her.

This credit is three-fold. Not only does it mean Malladi writes solid descriptions, it also means she’s in touch with her readers — even if she did write this book in 2003, which brings me to my third point: Malladi has given us a timely story because family tensions are evergreen and make for great literary drama.

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