The Sound of Language
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". . . uncomplicated, with sensitive characters involved in today’s political and racial conflicts."
Indian-born Amulya Malladi has successfully fabricated a credible story in her fifth novel, The Sound of Language, a tale about an Afghani refugee living in Denmark. The author, educated in the United States, acknowledges she hasn’t been to war-torn Afghanistan, but that she developed her character from refugees in her language class. Malladi, married a Dane and lives in Denmark, where refugees are required to speak Danish fluently before they can become fully employed or open a business. This welfare issue is contentious among Danes, which lends to hostility toward refugees who are not white.
Raihana, the protagonist of the book, comes to live with her distant Afghan relatives in Denmark and is caught between cultural and social barriers and presumptions. She fondly recalls her life in Kabul before the Taliban took power and imposed strict rules such as being arrested or killed for not wearing a burkha or for listening to music. Her husband, a teacher, protested and was arrested and ultimately killed in prison. Her father and brother were killed when the Taliban looted their village. And she cannot forget the public executions in the football stadium.
Raihana questions the destruction of her home by American bombs that ended the Taliban’s reign. Now she finds herself isolated for decades before she can return to her war-ruined country. In Denmark she saw opportunities for an independent life free from wearing ahijab or abaya and owning her own business, but as an Afghan “she couldn’t imagine living alone without someone to watch over her.” She is torn between the two worlds.
As Raihana progresses in language class, she is assigned a praktik, a language immersion job, with Gunner, a beekeeper incapacitated with grief over his wife’s death. Raihana’s teacher knows Gunner may lose his colonies of bees if he doesn’t get help. They become a center of community gossip. Gunner’s family and friends have their own negative, racist views about Muslims while Raihana’s family oppose her being alone with a man, a violation of religion and culture. Through their relationship, they ultimately break down misplaced assumptions about race in their small community.
Because Malladi thinks the Danish language sounds like bees buzzing, she uses bees as a link within the story. Each chapter begins with metaphorical notations from Gunner’s wife’s journal. Raihana learns about the nature and behavior of bees from the journal. Malladi book is uncomplicated, with sensitive characters involved in today’s political and racial conflicts.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla