cover image The Sound of Language

The Sound of Language

Amulya Malladi, . . Ballantine, $13.95 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-345-48316-4

Cold, wet Denmark is a strange land to Raihana, the widowed Afghan refugee at the center of Malladi’s well-intentioned but wooden fifth novel. After her husband is killed by the Taliban, Raihana moves to Denmark, enrolls in language school and, with the help of a supportive teacher, lands an unusual apprenticeship helping Gunnar, a Danish widower and beekeeper, harvest his honey. Though their relationship is initially strained, Raihana and Gunnar soon develop a restorative friendship, but the road to redemption is not easy: Raihana feels pressure within the Afghan community to remarry, and the idea of an Afghan woman working alone with a Danish man soon has both their communities in a tizzy. Meanwhile, racial violence simmers day-to-day. Unfortunately, Malladi’s treatment of cultural tension is one-dimensional at best; most of the supporting characters are xenophobic, if not flat-out racist, and their actions play into an overarching philosophy that expounds the benefits of tolerance and multiculturalism. Malladi means well, but her parable-like treatment of complex issues is too pat to resonate. (Dec.)