Picking Up Steam, Giving it Some Gas

Now that prelims are finito, I’m proud to say that my reading for pleasure has started to pick up steam again. I brought way too many books on my trip to Chicago and Baltimore, and I actually finished the first one on the plane ride back to Midway: A Breath of Fresh Air, by Amulya Malladi.

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It starts off a little slow, but, like my reading habits, picks up steam shortly in. The book takes place in Ooty, India (which is actually a real place) where Anjali “Anju,” a primary school teacher, lives with her husband Sandeep, a university professor, their son Amar, and his sister Komal. When Anjali’s first husband, army officer Prakash, moves into town with his new wife Indira “Indu,” things get complicated. As Amar becomes more and more ill, Prakash and Anjali must confront the past, and the event that links them all together – the Bhopal gas disaster, which left Anjali with an unraveled marriage and permanent health issues (for her and her future child) as a souvenir.

On the whole, it was a fairly good book and a smooth read, but not terribly deep outside of Anjali and Prakash. Other than Anjali initiating her own divorce with Prakash, nothing really out of the ordinary happened. Their second partners were both pretty wooden, and even their relationships seemed kind of dull. What was actually more interesting to read about, but kind of took second fiddle, was the relationship between Anjali and her Sikh friend Harjot, especially in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s death. That subplot could have used more attention. Overall, the characters were on the conciliatory side, and basically, it proved what I figured from the beginning: Anjali got the short end of the stick by inhaling all that gas, and losing the support of her own parents, and Prakash wasn’t really a jackass, just young and misguided, and he came through for his ex-wife and her son when she needed them, in a big way. The only real risk-taking occurred at the very end, which was very sweet. Overall, I’m on the fence about this one. If you’re into Indian/South Asian fiction, give it a try; if not, it’s not my favorite in the genre so far.

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