(Thanks to Galleysmith (AGAIN!) for the inspiration of how to set up the title, author, genre, etc.)
Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.
Returning to India is an overwhelming experience for Priya. When she was growing up, summer was all about mangoes—ripe, sweet mangoes, bursting with juices that dripped down your chin, hands, and neck. But after years away, she sweats as if she’s never been through an Indian summer before. Everything looks dirtier than she remembered. And things that used to seem natural (a buffalo strolling down a newly laid asphalt road, for example) now feel totally chaotic.
But Priya’s relatives remain the same. Her mother and father insist that it’s time they arranged her marriage to a “nice Indian boy.” Her extended family talks of nothing but marriage—particularly the marriage of her uncle Anand, which still has them reeling. Not only did Anand marry a woman from another Indian state, but he also married for love. Happiness and love are not the point of her grandparents’ or her parents’ union. In her family’s rule book, duty is at the top of the list.
Just as Priya begins to feel she can’t possibly tell her family that she’s engaged to an American, a secret is revealed that leaves her stunned and off-balance. Now she is forced to choose between the love of her family and Nick, the love of her life.
As sharp and intoxicating as sugarcane juice bought fresh from a market cart, The Mango Season is a delightful trip into the heart and soul of both contemporary India and a woman on the edge of a profound life change.
Since many of the things I’m going to mention about The Mango Season are negative, I wanted to preface my thoughts by saying that I did enjoy the book and would be happy to read more by this author, particularly after seeing that this is her lowest rated book on Amazon (just over three stars, whereas her others are rated a solid 4 or 5 stars).
First, the author used a phrase that I couldn’t figure out. Twice she said, “I gave him a look reserved for the retarded.” What look would that be? In each case, the context indicates he was joking and she didn’t find it funny, so she’d be looking at him with her eyebrows raised and maybe a scowl on her face. Besides the phrase being extremely insensitive, I just don’t know what look she’s talking about! If she’d said, “I gave him a look reserved for idiots”, well then I’d know exactly the look she was talking about!
The Mango Season is really quite short — closer to a novella than a novel (my book shows the page count at 229), and yet the author tried to tackle quite a few intense and serious subjects: cultural differences, family expectations, parent/child relationships, etc. As such, the book doesn’t delve into any one issue very well; it merely touches on many issues without really exploring these difficult topics.
One of the complaints my book club had (another book club pick!) about The Mango Season was that the author seemed to pack every stereotype into this one book. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but this wasn’t an issue for me.
I thought the main character, Priya, was consistently focused on the wrong thing. She was always concerned her family wouldn’t love her once they found out she was engaged to an American. Perhaps it was the author’s poor choice of words, but I was disappointed to see that Priya thought love was so easily tossed away. Sure, he parents might be mad and disappointed and frustrated and any other number of emotions when she dropped the bomb of her engagement, but to think that love can be so easily discarded was sad.
The last complaint I have is that everything wrapped up a little too neatly. Too many of Priya’s relatives found backbone to stick up to some other family member based on something Priya said or the example she was setting. I can see this happening over a long period of time, but a handful of people all changing their behavior at the same time? Maybe I’m cynical, but it’s awfully hard for people to change their behavior!
With all that said, I actually really did enjoy the book. It appears I’ve started off reading the worst of this author’s work, and if that’s the case, then I have no doubt her other books are fabulous.
Rating: 2.9 out of 5 stars