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.
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.
[Amulya Malladi] draws us into the novel with her characters, who are refreshingly free of stereotype. She has successfully managed to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in her handling of emotional material–a near-fatal accident, a child’s mortal illness, a spouse’s infidelity. And that is no mean achievement for a first-time novelist.
Chitra Divakaruni, Los Angeles Times
[A Breath of Fresh Air] is a complex exploration of love, recrimination and forgiveness…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.
Jessi Hempel, TIME
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.
Mark Athitakis, SF Weekly
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.
Susan Kurosawa, The Weekend Australian
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.
Mindi Dickstein, St. Petersburg Times
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.
Sandip Roy, San Francisco Chronicle
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.
Shirley Saad, United Press International (Book of the Week)
This sensitive and moving first novel…is rich in insight into Indian culture and psychology, while it presents truths which are universal.
Yvonne Crittenden, The Toronto Sun
The refreshing aspect of Malladi’s maiden novel is the narrative style. Read the book…you’ll get your money and time’s worth.
Puja Birla, Indian Express