Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 2004. ISBN 0345466128.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005
Amulya Malladi is the author of A Breath of Fresh Air and The Mango Season. She and her family live in the island of Mors in Denmark.
This is a story of a young Indian woman's experience as an immigrant to America. This is a story of family secrets and relationships. This is a story that could easily stand alone but has been raised up a notch by the recipes that are sprinkled through out the pages of the book. This is a story about human nature, love, forgiveness, self-affirmation and tension. This is a story that readers will be so attached to its characters by the last page, that they will find themselves thinking of them for days to come. Malladi's characters are so alive that the reader may have a difficult time letting them go back to the bookshelf when she has read the final chapter.
As the book opens, Devi has been laid off from yet another job in Silicon Valley. So sure that there is no alternative, Devi sets out to commit suicide. She leaves a list of reasons to die and reasons to live. She makes a few phone calls to important people such as her father and her grandmother. But, "suicide was stressful business" (pg 4). Her calculated plan to kill herself goes awry when her mother, Sarjo, uses the spare keys to Devi's home to let herself in. Had Sarjo not come to Devi's on that particular day at that particular time, she would have succeeded with her plan. But, Sarjo and her set of keys spared Devi's life.
"Two things happened after the Devi 'incident' as everyone in the Veturi household started calling it: 1. Devi completely stopped talking. 2. Devi started cooking. Two things she did with such intensity and consistency that it drove her already shaken family up the wall." (pg 12)
Malladi's characters reflect the common themes of disappointment, failures, family tensions, frayed mother-daughter relationships and generational value differences. She also captures the blending of "old world" culture with American culture. It is with precision and wit that Malladi tells a story of recovery—and cooking.
The sometimes bizarre recipes are steeped in Indian spices and aromas that seem to permeate the book's pages. The stories that Devi tells (in thoughts that are separated from the rest of the story by type set) are laced with poignancy and humor.
This is a book that is unlike any I have read before. It is bittersweet, it is real, it is unforgettable. For anyone who has ever felt that life is just not worth the hassle, Devi's road back may well change your mind. For anyone who struggles to accept or be accepted by family or self—you are not alone. Devi is living proof of that!
Devi's portions of "crazy" are delicately balanced with her curried dishes. Readers will delight in this unique story and the even more unique recipes.
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