Summary and book reviews of A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

A Breath of Fresh Air

By Amulya Malladi

A Breath of Fresh Air
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2002,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2003,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

On the night of December 3, 1984, Anjali waits for her army officer husband to pick her up at the train station in Bhopal, India. In an instant, her world changes forever. Her anger at his being late turns to horror when a catastrophic gas leak poisons the city air. Anjali miraculously survives. Her marriage does not.

A smart, successful schoolteacher, Anjali is now remarried to Sandeep, a loving and stable professor. Their lives would be nearly perfect, if not for their young son's declining health. But when Anjali's first husband suddenly reappears in her life, she is thrown back to the troubling days of their marriage with a force that impacts everyone around her.

Her first husband's return brings back all the uncertainty Anjali thought time and conviction had healed–about her decision to divorce, and about her place in a society that views her as scandalous for having walked away from her arranged marriage. As events unfold, feelings she had guarded like gold begin to leak away from her, spreading out into the world and challenging her once firm beliefs.

Rich in insight into Indian culture and psychology, A Breath of Fresh Air resonates with meaning and the abiding power of love. In a landscape as intriguing as it is unfamiliar, Anjali's struggles to reconcile the roles of wife and ex-wife, working woman and mother, illuminate both the fascinating duality of the modern Indian woman and the difficult choices all women must make.

ANJALI

DECEMBER 3, 1984 BHOPAL RAILWAY STATION BHOPAL, INDIA

I waited patiently for the first hour, and then I started to get impatient. The Bhopal Railway Station was abuzz with late-night activities. The homeless were wandering, begging for money and food; some people were waiting for their train to arrive and others, like me, were waiting for someone to pick them up, as the hands of the big dirty clock in front of me came together to welcome midnight.

I turned my wrist again to look at the watch my husband had given me after our wedding just a few months ago. It was a nice Titan watch, with a green background and red numbers and hands. It was a compulsive action to look at the watch, since I already knew what the time was.

Why wasn't he here? He knew when I was getting back. He had bought the tickets himself. How could he have forgotten?

Soon the homeless stopped begging and started looking for places to settle in for the night. The Station Master used a long, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Amulya Malladi chose to use the Bhopal gas leak of 1984, which killed 3,800 people and permanently disabled thousands more, as the key event within A Breath of Fresh Air. Given the license of a fiction writer to invent tragedy, why would an author like Malladi decide to use a real event instead?

  2. Does the reality behind such an event enhance or distract from the fictional story?

  3. Do you, as the reader, hold the author to different standards of verisimilitude when such an event appears in a novel?

  4. What is the effect of starting the novel with this terrifying event?

  5. How does Anjali’s role as the victim of such a tragedy change her life in subtle, unexpected ways (in addition to the major changes she experiences)?

  6. What is ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time Magazine - Jessi Hempel

Malladi's subject is...compelling the survivors of the Bhopal tragedy remain neglected and angry after 18 years. [Malladi] was a child in Bhopal when the disaster happened and wasn't affected because her house was upwind of the Carbide factory. The victims of the accident now total 14,000, a number Malladi humanizes by keeping her story intimate.

Abilene Reporter-News - Larry Lawrence

A Breath of Fresh Air highlights the human ability for forgiveness and perseverance along with the abiding power of love.

Mark Athitakis, SF Weekly

Amulya Malladi's gemlike first novel has a provocative, almost absurd concept--it's a love story framed by the horrifying Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984...the quality of Malladi's writing elevates [A Breath of] Fresh Air well above standard-issue book-club fodder, and her strong control over plot helps her avoid the overwritten narrative drift that plagues most first novels...Malladi's story is a fine study of the tenuous control we have over love and memory.

St. Petersburg Times - Mindi Dickstein

Amulya Malladi...writes dispassionately and yet movingly of love and destiny in modern India...[she takes] humdrum details of family heartbreak...raising them to the level of clear-eyed, well-crafted art. Malladi writes with a steady, sure hand; accumulating details casually, she catches the reader unaware with the depth of her insight into love and loss.

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review - Sandip Roy

Malladi's writing style is unadorned and simple....[she] slowly builds up the drama of a past life and a present life colliding and the child who gets caught in between...One way to capture the human toll of a disaster like Bhopal is with a photographer's eye for minute detail. Instead, Malladi has tried to look at the shadow it casts on the souls of those who survived and wanted nothing more than to carry on with their small, ordinary lives.

United Press International (Book of the Week) - Shirley Saad,

In simple language, Malladi tells a simple story of love, betrayal, jealousy, guilt and forgiveness...A glimpse into a foreign culture is always a treat, and this novel combines that with characters with whom we can empathize, as they deal with universal problems and emotions. A Breath of Fresh Air is a fast and fascinating read.

Library Journal - Lisa Rohrbaugh

Malladi's first novel is an intriguing story written in a simple and elegant style, and readers will look forward to more work from this promising writer.

Kirkus Reviews

First novel about an Indian woman haunted by the Bhopal tragedy...this is absorbing stuff, particularly Anjali's struggles as a contemporary woman in India.

Publishers Weekly

Debut novelist Malladi deserves credit for illuminating a troubling aspect of Indian culture.

Booklist - Carol Haggas

In this accomplished debut novel, Malladi depicts believable and well-defined characters facing tumultuous circumstances with grace and sensitivity, passion and pride.

The Weekend Australian - Susan Kurosawa

Malladi...writes with a restraint reminiscent of Anita Desai...she has captured the emotional ramifications of a disaster such as Bhopal with maturity and dignity. I challenge you not to shed a tear.

Reader Reviews
Patricia Denehy

Amulya Malladi's, "A Breath of Fresh Air," brought laughter and tears. Based on the Bhopal gas tragedy in India, a real event which occurred in 1984 and killed 3,800 people and disabled thousands more, this fictional novel is a compelling story of ...   Read More

Darlene

A Breath of Fresh Air is a book that I will highly recommend to anyone. It is quick and keeps the reader intrigued as the story unfolds. The characters are believable. I wish the story would continue. I want to know how each person deals with the...   Read More

Jayant Bhargav

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR is a wonderful debut novel. I was very impressed with this young woman's writing and her insight into loss and tragedy and love. With the backdrop of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Amulya Malladi tells the story of Anjali, a young ...   Read More

Davina - BookBrowse.com

A Breath of Fresh Air is a wonderful novel - and an exceptional first novel. The terrible human tragedy of the 1984 gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, that killed 4,000 people immediately and blinded or disabled ...   Read More

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