November 17th, 2018
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November Must Read Books


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Jen's Jewels
Get the lowdown on your favorite authors with Jennifer Vido.

Interview with Amulya Malladi

January has always been my favorite month of the year. As a kid, it was based solely on the reasoning that my birthday falls in this month. For my mom, the month presented itself as a challenge since her only daughter’s birthday cake request was usually strawberry shortcake. Yes, it’s kind of tough finding fresh, sweet strawberries in the dead of winter. I guess that’s why my mom and husband agree that I can be a little high-maintenance …at times.

All kidding aside, it’s refreshing to be able to start anew. We all dream of cleaning that slate that needs dusting off and embarking on a journey that knows no bounds. This month’s jewel epitomizes that reality through not only her life, but also in her latest release, The Sound of Language. Her eloquently written novel follows the transformation of two lost souls, an Afghan refugee and a Danish widower, who must come to terms with the hand that each has been dealt. Despite a language barrier, they manage to find a commonality that guides them into uncharted waters which ultimately threatens their very existence. Honestly, this book is perfect for the time of year which encompasses change and new horizons. After reading it, I do think you’ll agree.

As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has graciously donated five copies for my contest section. So, please look for the trivia question and enter to win your own copy of The Sound of Language. I hope you enjoy my interview.

Jen: Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background so that my readers can get a better sense of who you are and how your background has influenced your writing.

Amulya: I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and master’s degree in journalism. I went into journalism because I have always been a writer. I wrote my first book (all 50 handwritten pages of it) when I was 11. I think my affection and affinity for writing has influenced my academic choices. After finishing journalism school I worked in the Silicon Valley as a copy writer and marketing manager.

Jen: I truly believe that writers are born, not created. Do you agree? Have you always had that burning desire to put your thoughts on paper? What was the driving force that led you to embrace this career?

Amulya: I can’t say if writers in general are born or created. I always had the writing bug. It started early for me and never left. I’m a writer, it’s part of my personality—I can’t switch it off. And there have been times I wished I could switch it off, especially in those days when I was collecting rejection letters from agents.

Jen: How did you arrive at the premise for your latest release, The Sound of Language?

Amulya: Living in Denmark as an immigrant makes you ask many questions and makes you aware of being an immigrant—more so than it does in the United States. So I knew I wanted to address this in a book. Then I took Danish language classes and met some wonderful women, mostly refugees from Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iran. That’s when the story started to form.

Jen: I was fascinated with the diary entries by Anna, the beekeeper’s departed wife, at the beginning of each chapter. First of all, why beekeeping? Secondly, how much research went into the novel to accurately describe the life of a beekeeper?

Amulya: I am so glad you liked the diary entries. I was worried when I put them in—I didn’t want it to look like a gimmick. It was my way of introducing Anna to the reader even though she’s dead.

Every language has a sound. Try hearing a language you don’t have any clue about and it has a sound. Some sound like music, others like stones rattling in a steel container and some others like the buzzing of bees.

When I first moved to Denmark, that’s how Danish sounded to me: like the buzzing of bees. In Scandinavia, Danish is the hardest language to learn because it’s the hardest language to understand. People speak as if they have a hot potato in their mouth. They randomly shorten words and make four words into one sound. Now that I understand some Danish, the buzzing has lessened, but it’s still there when people speak too quickly or they’re speaking with a heavy Northern Jylland accent.

So it had to be beekeeping because I kept thinking of buzzing bees when people spoke Danish.

The research part actually came easily because my husband’s uncle is the top bee expert in Denmark. And Flemming was wonderful. He helped me throughout the book and even read it a couple of times to make sure the beekeeping material was correct.

Jen: One of the things I liked best about this novel is the way in which you intertwined two cultures without condemning one or praising the other. For you, what was the most difficult part of the novel to write and why?

Amulya: Thank you! As you can imagine, it didn’t come easy. The most difficult part was to get off the soap box—to avoid getting preachy about the racism that still exists and can make life difficult for immigrants who try to create new lives for themselves in Denmark.

I have always had a great respect for Afghans, their strength and their cultural values. So I had to make sure I didn’t overdo that bit either.

I was worried throughout the writing process about how I was depicting one culture or the other. I’d read stuff out to my husband and ask him “So, am I being unfair?” He’s a Dane so helped me with the Danish parts. I hope I did the Afghan parts justice. The readers, I’m sure, will let me know.

Jen: I think the pinnacle point of the story (without giving too much away) is of course the act of violence towards Raihana that forever alters her relationship with Gunnar. What was your motivation for taking that turn and subsequently, how did it further define the tone of the novel? Did you debate the necessity of the scene in relation to the plot?

Amulya: I always knew that this scene would be part of the book—so I didn’t debate whether it should be in or not.

Just a couple of years ago, seven neo-Nazi teenagers attacked a Somali family in the town of Langeskove on the island of Fyn. The family was in the house when the young men started to break the windows with bats. The family had to run with their children to a neighbor’s house to avoid getting beaten up. This attack caused quite an outrage in Langeskove. When I heard about the incident, I knew I had to write about it. This was a terrible act of violence that showed that trouble is brewing in Denmark and that there are Danes who will not tolerate it either.

Jen: With each chapter, you enabled the reader to get inside Raihana’s mind and see the world in the way in which she viewed it. We see her evolve from a scared young woman to a strong, vibrant person ready to face life’s challenges. What message, if any, were you sending through this character?

Amulya: I wanted to show that no matter how bad things get, the human spirit finds a way to stay alive. My editor once told me that I write books about women trying to find their place in society, and that is what Raihana’s story is about. The society is Danish and at times unwelcoming but she finds her place all the same, thanks to the help of people like Christina and Gunnar.

Jen: Gunnar is a complex character who struggles with his own demons. Like Raihana, he has to come to terms with the reality that sometimes there is no justice. Will Gunnar’s voice be heard? What life lessons has he learned from Raihana?

Amulya: I think Gunnar’s struggles, he realizes, are not as complicated as Raihana’s struggles. He lost his wife and that is difficult—but no one murdered her and he probably finds some relief in that when he compares his situation with Raihana’s. He learns from Raihana that he needs to be happy again—if she can find happiness despite all that she’s been through, he probably feels he has a higher responsibility for getting on with his life.

Jen: Despite being from a male dominant culture, the men in this novel take a backseat to the women. For example, now that Raihana is in Denmark, she is able to contemplate a marriage proposal instead of being told to whom she must betroth. In your opinion, how has the view of women shifted in cultures such as Pakistan? Afghanistan? Or has it at all?

Amulya: Pakistan is very different from Afghanistan. Pakistan has its radicals but mostly people are just like they’re in India—women in cities and those coming from liberal families have the same freedom I do.

Afghanistan is probably not the same, but women who leave and come to another country have more freedom, depending upon the men in their life. In The Sound of Language, Kabir is open-minded, which helps Raihana make her own decisions.

Jen: As you well know, this novel incorporates many parts of you in the sense that like your main character, Raihana, you are a foreigner living in Denmark. Please tell us what the most challenging part of living there has been and how have you overcome it?

Amulya: I have been an immigrant twice now. I was an immigrant in the United States, which was very easy. I was accepted easily and I became American for that duration. Living in Denmark hasn’t been that easy. I still feel like a tourist sometimes. But now that we live in the city of Copenhagen, which is very cosmopolitan, things have become better.

Jen: The Sound of Language is your fifth release. (Congratulations!) If you had to pinpoint the defining moment in your career thus far, what would it be and why?

Amulya: Oh that’s easy. That would be when my agent called me on my way to work to tell me that there was a two-book offer on the table from Ballantine— that was the first time I felt like a real writer.

Jen: If you could go back and do it over again, what one thing in relation to your career would you do differently and why?

Amulya: Absolutely nothing!

Jen: Has there been any talk of seeing any of your novels up on the big screen?

Amulya: Once in a while someone will send an email and ask something but nothing “real” so far.

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Amulya: I am now working on a book titled All the Colors in Between. This book is set in the San Francisco Bay Area and is about an Indian woman, Naina, who is going through a divorce (Indians don’t divorce), her American and white stepmother (her father married Miranda just a year after Naina’s very Indian mother died), her best friend (a black woman who’s dating a slimy Indian man who will never marry her)—and last but not the least, her dead great aunt, a famous actress in black and white Bollywood, who haunts Naina’s dreams, visiting her on black and white Hindi movie sets. Between a Bollywood director screaming “cut” in her black and white dreams; her future ex-husband promising to wage war against the much-needed divorce so that he doesn’t have to tell his parents; and her attraction to her cousin’s husband as well as a man whose name she doesn’t know, Naina has to navigate treacherous emotional minefields and grow up. I’m having a great time working on All the Colors in Between; it’s a good change from my last two books, which were quite serious.

Jen: Please tell us about your website. Do you have a mailing list? Email notification of new releases? Do you participate in author phone chats? If so, how would my readers go about arranging one?

Amulya: I update my website as often as possible. This is my calling card to the world—and my readers come here to learn about my other books and me, so I make sure it’s in good shape.

You can sign up for my newsletter at: www.amulyamal ladi.com/newsletter.htm. . You can also sign up for an author chat at: www.amulyamalladi.com/bookclubs.htm.

A special joy for any author is to meet and speak with readers. I love calling into book club meetings and answering questions about my books, my life, my writing process and everything in between, even though it sometimes means waking up at 3 a.m. to call into a book club meeting in Minnesota. I have talked with book clubs all over the United States and it's always a wonderful experience.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with my readers. Your novel is so insightful and well-written. I highly recommend it to all of my readers! I wish you only the best in 2008!

Amulya: Thanks so much for such an insightful interview. Your questions were very thought-provoking and I appreciate the time you took to read The Sound of Language and come up with the questions.

Why not start off the New Year with a bang and win The Sound of Language? Five of my lucky readers will do just that! Entry my contest with the correct answer to the following question and the book will be yours:

What is the title of Amulya’s next release?

On the 15th of the month, I will be bringing to you my interview with mystery writer, Roberta Isleib, whose latest release titled Preaching to the Corpse is now in stores.

Happy New Year….Jen

 

 

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