Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

Category: Fiction
Format: Trade Paperback, 256 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: December 26, 2007
Price: $16.95

It is not unheard of for Denmark to be wary of – even hostile to – refugees (mostly from Muslim countries like Turkey, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan) in its midst. Some say the media perpetuate a stereotyped image of refugees as parasites, wanting to feast on Denmark's generous welfare system. Others are concerned that refugees do not want to become Danes, desiring instead that the Danes make way for their cultures, ideas etc., many of them unacceptable, like the wearing of the hijab, forced marriages, marriages between cousins etc. While all Danes don't think the same way, the ones that do are fairly vocal and as a result Denmark does come across (to me, atleast) as being a little racist.

Amulya Malladi, an Indian author, married to a Dane, addresses these issues in her latest fictional work titled "The Sound of Language". In this beautiful and honest piece of writing, Raihana, an Afghan widow comes to Denmark from a Pakistani refugee camp to start a new life. She is sponsored by fellow Afghans who with traditional Afghan hospitality invite her to stay with them for as long as she wants.

There are two things all refugees must do when they arrive in Denmark,one is to learn Danish and the other is to land a "praktik" or a job that enables them to earn money as well as practice their Danish. Raihana lands a job with an elderly beekeeper and widower, Gunnar. At first their relationship is strained because Gunnar (and especially his family who are protective of him) don't like the idea of this young Muslim girl coming to the house. THey are afraid she will take advantage of his loneliness and his kindness. On the other hand, Raihana's people also don't want her working for a "white" man whom they feel might take sexual advantage of this young, pretty widow.

But as Raihana and Gunmar continue to work together all preconceived stereotypes melt away and they grow genuinely fond of each other even introducing their families to each other and thus building a bridge of friendship between two communities that hardly ever mingle.

The novel sheds light on Denmark's attempts at building a multicultural society....its successes and its failures. For it to truly succeed, both, Danes and the new refugees have to learn to meet each other in the middle.

What made Amulya Malladi choose this subject for her current novel? In an interview she says she found immigrating to Denmark from the US very challenging. The people aren't the friendliest in the world and nor is the weather, but as she has a Danish husband and a familial support system, integration for her was a relatively painless procedure. However, whenever she sees a refugee she is drawn to how difficult it is must be for them to start life afresh in this foreign land and thus the story was born. Also, she wanted to explore how communication takes place and relationships are built when there is no common language and the relationship between Gunnar and Raihana is very much a study of that.

I have read all Amulya's books and she has yet to disappoint. Ofcourse, some of the characters in this novel were quite cliched but I forgive her for that because I don't know if you can weave a story about immigration, racism etc without resorting to a few stereotypes for your characters.

Other notable reads:

Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Khadare
Ismail Kadare’s classic novel of a boy’s coming of age in the midst of the horrors of war (Albania), in a stunning new translation.

The Tears of Sheba: Tales of Survival and Intriuge in Arabia by Khadija Al-Salami
The inspirational account of a remarkable woman, the story of her life is set against the background of civil war and family strife in Yemen. A wonderful read for anyone interested in Yemen or in the Middle East. I was completely swept away by Khadija's story and loved how she wove stories of Yemen's history and culture into her own.

40 comments:

jenclair said...

As usual, some interesting new titles to peruse. The Sound of Language sounds particularly intriguing. I'm not familiar with Amulya Malladi, but the process of integrating into a new country, climate, and culture is always fascinating.

Hope your new job is going well, Lotus!

Booklogged said...

Oh, it was good to open my feed reader and see a new post by you, Lotus. It's been awhile. How's everything going? Are you enjoying your job?

You still have the knack for writing a great review.

Eva said...

This book sounds really neat! One of my roommates in college studied abroad for a semester in Denmark, and she found it racist as well.

Radha said...

Good to see a post from you!!
An interesting backdrop for a book. Nice review as always.

Beenzzz said...

I have heard similar things about Denmark. It's shame too. Refugees are open to such psychological torment. It's bad enough that they have to flee their homeland because of some form of political strife, but to end up in a "safer" place and have to deal with this kind of treatment is just horrible. Like you said though, not all Danes are this small minded, it's just too bad that the small minded ones make such a negative impact. This book sounds incredibly intriguing. I will add it to my ever growing cue of books!

tanabata said...

Nice to 'see' you! More books for the wishlist, especially The Sound of Language is appealing to me. Hope you're well.

Happy Reader said...

Yay!! Lotus, You are back :) This is the very book I've been wanting to read lately, and am so glad to read your review. I love Amulya's books too! This one sounds very interesting..

Sanjay said...

Happy New Year my friend and welcome back. I am thrilled to see that you are reading and posting again. All the 3 books sound so intriguing!

Denmark like a lot of countries in Europe are wary about the refugees/immigrants in their midst particularly because they have no history of immigration and their national identity is very much linked to their culture,language and things that are distinctly Danish. This is unlike countries like the US and Canada, where most immigrants can integrate with ease and call themselves American or Canadian. And most people would argue that there is no reason for immigrants to give up their language and culture while integrating. The fears of the Danes are understandable as you point out. A cultural identity is an amalgam of so many parts and leaving some out is not giving out the whole, especially if it is parts like the Hijab and forced marriages. The folks that refuse to integrate often forget that they are living in a country whose laws they are governed by. Learning the language and understanding the culture is important too. Yes the Scandinavian countries do have very liberal programs for refugees often supported by high taxes.

My interaction with Danes has been restricted to our friends and I am afraid they are hardly indicative of the people.

I haven't read anything by Malladi and I am fascinated to see how how Raihana and Gunmar relationship evolves. I wonder if Raihana was shy or intimidated by a world where men and women are often equal. How did she respond to working, if she came from a refugee camp? I would love to see how Gunmar reacted to this presumable shy, reticent woman. How did they communicate?

The other 2 books sounds fascinating too. Yemen has been in the news lately, it made a list of places to visit in the NYTimes, but sadly 2 Belgians recently were killed in an ambush of a tourist bus. Khadija's story is indeed remarkable. Thank you for a wonderful review as always!

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

Welcome back to blogging! I thought you were completely DONE with it, and my bloggy world was a bit sadder for the loss. Now it's happy again, with you here!

Asha said...

I just read her Mango season, loved it! Thanks for this, will try and get it!:)

Anali said...

Welcome back Lotus! Great to see another of your wonderful posts and reviews! This book sounds like an interesting read.

Sai said...

Hey Lotus:

So nice to see you back! As always a great review.

About the general xenophobia exhibited by the Danes is reflective of the fear of the unknown. Racism can be at all levels. If you don't know much about a culture so alien and foreign to what you have experienced then it is I suppose a very common reaction exhibited by people.

I haven't interacted with any Danes except of course my husband's cousin's wife who is an incredible person, which bring back to the point that one cannot generalize and biases are more due to ignorance and fear!

The Pixy Princess said...

Hey hey... welcome back!
I need to do a "recent reads" post myself - have been absolutely DEVOURING books over the past few weeks.
Am killing time at the bookstore this evening and so must add this one to my LOnnnnnng list of must haves/must reads!

literary safari said...

Yippee, you are back! I have yet to read any of Amulya's books, thought I have often picked them up, and this seems like a great read. Thanks for a great review, as usual.

Ted said...

Yay, you're back! I've been looking forward to your next post.

Gentle Reader said...

Welcome back! This sounds really interesting, because I'd like to learn more about European countries and their attitudes toward immigrants--as I've heard some of the stories about the racism that exists--and I'd like to read the story of the Afghan widow and her experiences as a refugee and immigrant. Thanks for the review!

Shashikiran said...

Hello Lotus: welcome back, and thanks for a terrific book-suggestion.

Lotus Reads said...

Wanted to say a quick "thank you" to each and every one of you for the welcome back....I have sorely missed the interaction with my blogging buddies and hope to be a more frequent poster in February.

Will respond in more detail later and will resume visiting all your wonderful blogs soon too!

heather (errantdreams) said...

What a lovely concept; must add to my wishlist.

So glad to see you back!!

Bybee said...

Lotus,
I'm so happy you're back. This looks like a good book. I love to read about going from one culture to another. I didn't know anything about Denmark, so that information is very interesting.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

I am so glad that you are back with your wonderful reviews. Hope you are keeping well and have mastered juggling with your busy schedule! i am marking these books ! seem interesting!

Les said...

Yipppeee Skippy! You're back!! I've checked in several times a week and was thrilled to see your recent post. Now off to read it. :)

Laura said...

Yipee!!!! You are back in blog-land!!! So happy to see you here! And you have reviewed a book that I want to go out and get tonight!!!!! Yeah for Friday night reading!

Hope your hiatus was restful and that all is well!!!!! You were missed!!!!

NJ said...

horray! Lotus is back!
Lotus, except for a Dane Boss, a fantastic person, I have never come to meet people from that part of the world. .. as some of your friends have noted above, it is understandable for people to resent forigners in their land in a way or the other. Sadly this trend exists almost everywhere in the world(at least the places i ve been to!) and the amount of one's contribution to the growth of host land hardly measures in the eye of most of average locals. but then i guess trends are changing in different paces at various parts of the world. (maybe this is just a personal wish!)

thanks Lotus,
neda

Olivia said...

Hey you're back! I am glad I decided to take a peek this evening.

Despite the fact that my grandmother is Icelandic and learned Danish because Is. once belonged to Dk., I've never met a Dane I liked. Nevertheless, many of the Scandinavian social programs are admirable in their progressive nature.

I wish the UK (for decades known as Europe's soft touch) would adopt a language and work integration program like the one Raihana was put into with Gunnar, rather than sitting in a government-provided flat living on free money.

A Reader from India said...

Lotus, Happy New Year and so glad to see you back!

The theme of the book - On communication in a cross-cultural setting is fascinating. I can relate to it especially now, working at our Tokyo office for the past few days. On one level, it is incredibly complex and frustrating, and on the other side, makes us realise that we are all so similar. Will check out the book. Look forward to read more reviews from you!

A Reader from India said...

Lotus, Happy New Year and so glad to see you back!

The theme of the book - On communication in a cross-cultural setting is fascinating. I can relate to it especially now, working at our Tokyo office for the past few days. On one level, it is incredibly complex and frustrating, and on the other side, makes us realise that we are all so similar. Will check out the book. Look forward to read more reviews from you!

Read@Peace said...

Great to have you back, Anjali.
You have been missed, as the comments tell...

karen! said...

I tagged you for a meme. You know I don't normally do that kind of thing, but I think you'll really enjoy this one.

Here's my post and here's a link to where it all started.

starry nights said...

Love you new look.Happy new year to you.I have read books by Amuya and have enjoyed them.this book is net on my list.How are yo doing?

Prixie said...

welcome back to bloggerville!

Jyothsna said...

Hey, you're back!! :) How's the new job going? Hmm, that's an interesting book no doubt. I do think even the rest of the Europeans are sceptical about cultural changes Asian can bring about....I've felt the scepticism with a few Europeans I've interacted with here.

Robin said...

Oh, how nice to find you back and posting again! We missed you!

Nyssaneala said...

I've given you the "you make my day award" :)

BookClover said...

You got me very interested...and I also love the title of the book! Thanks for the tip!

Bookfool said...

I have one book by Amulya Malladi, but I haven't yet read it. You've got me thinking I should push it up the pile a bit. :)

Leslie said...

I just finished Malladi's book and I LOVED it!! I picked it up completely on a whim from my public library's "new arrivals" shelf. I am very interested in the culture and experience of Middle Eastern women (working on a theater piece right now called "9 Parts of Desire," a one-woman show by Heather Raffo) and Denmark as a country and possible destination for me. I was delighted to find your review and some other suggestions of books I might like.

diyadear said...

hi lotus
how r u?
A whole new look to your blog.. very colorful indeed.. Long since i visited you.. Hope you are doing fine..

shnaggy said...

hi lotus. i take your review as my guide to buying books.
so far i have read the kite runner and a thousand splendid suns. i loved it and cried buckets. yesterday i was glad i found another one THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS...but i can't quite remember if you've recommended this book. sounds familiar though. thanks for always...

Melody said...

I'm late to the party...but nice to see ya again, Lotus!!! I had finished reading The Mango Season by the same author recently and loved it. I'm now looking out for her other books and your review came at the right timing! Thanks for the great review, as usual. ;)