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Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Book Review of “A Breath of Fresh Air”

Certainly a breath of fresh air, first time author Amulya Malladi’s debut novel weaves a compassionate story around one of the worst disasters ever, in India. This is not just another story of an Indian immigrant or wannabe. With this a touching story, which is completely set in India, Malladi is on the track to join the ranks of other successful emerging South Asian writers of the post- Rushdie generation.
What happened in December 1984 at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, continues to send ripple effects through the country and her people even today. As court cases are being fought and those affected by the toxic gas directly or indirectly are still feeling the repercussions of this disaster, this novel weaves a story around three strong fictional characters whose lives have been more than touched, by this tragedy. Who better to dramatize this incident than one who was right there when it all happened?
Amulya Malladi was nine years old when on the night of December 3rd, 1984, the infamous gas explosion occurred. She and her family were saved even though they were only four kilometers from the Union Carbide factory, the source of the explosion, because the wind was blowing in the other direction! This tragic event was the impetus behind her first novel.
A quick read, this novel is very well written and creates vivid pictures of the characters and the scenes in the readers mind. Besides the imagery, A Breath of Fresh Air is a very well rendered novel that brings to life the domestic dramas of a smart and spirited Indian woman in contemporary India, the human ability for forgiveness and perseverance.
The story begins on that fateful night in 1984, as a lady waits for her army officer husband to pick her up at the train station in Bhopal. Her anger with his tardiness is soon replaced with horror when the explosion pours poisonous gas into the air. This main character is Anjali, who is now a schoolteacher. The narrators of the story are the three main characters themselves – Anjali, Sandeep and Prakash, talking about their thoughts and experiences which finally culminates in a finish to an episode that has been open ended for several years.
Anjali a young dreamy girl has an arranged marriage. She marries army officer Prakash and realizes that she has been seeing Prakash through rose tinted glasses. Time to face reality, but fate has something else in store for her. Anjali becomes a victim of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. She survives the tragedy, but little does she know about it’s after effects.
Anjali and Prakash get divorced, and as she is creating a new life for herself she falls in love with Sandeep and marries him. Sandeep and Anjali are very happy together. They have a beautiful son, who is terminally ill, the result of the after effect of the toxic poisoning that Anjali suffered from.
One day suddenly, Prakash comes back into Anjali’s life. The uncertainty Anjali thought time and conviction had healed – about her decision to divorce, and about her place in society that views her as scandalous for having walked away from an arranged marriage – again envelops her. Her emotions and disturbed state of mind reverberate through all her family members. Similarly, his family members feel Prakash’s emotions and feelings. To add to this confusion is the deteriorating state of Anjali’s son.
She must struggle to reconcile her roles as ex-wife and wife, working woman and mother – and once again her beliefs are challenged. Malladi takes the story to a crescendo and brings it to a beautiful ending, bringing to life the human ability for forgiveness and perseverance, and resonating with the abiding power of love.

A Breath Of Fresh Air
by Amulya Malladi
Fiction (ISBN – 0-345-45028-0)
Ballantine Books Hardcover
192 pages