Friday, October 30, 2009

book review: The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

The Sound of Language is set in Denmark shortly after September 11, 2001. It focuses on two main characters: Raihana, a presumably widowed Afghan refugee who just moved to Denmark to live with distant relatives, and Gunnar, a recently widowed, depressed Dane who kept bees with his wife, Anna. Although Anna and Gunnar are the focus of the story, there is a broad cast of characters.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from Anna's beekeerping journal from 1980, the second year she and Gunnar kept bees. Both Anna and Gunnar tell their stories, and the interior monologue is beautiful and often tragic. Anna feels she will never learn Danish; to her, the language sounds like the buzzing of bees. The Danish government requires refugees to go to language school and have a practicum. Anna ends up at Gunnar's home to learn beekeeping and the language. The tension among language, understanding, culture, communication and emotions resonates on every page.

The Sound of Language is both an intensely personal story and the story of cultures as a whole. Malladi's command of language was breathtaking. I was immediately drawn into Raihana's story. This novel grabbed me from the first page. I am amazed at how much story was in two hundred pages. At the core of this tale are the themes of identity, place and home. While the story is about Afghans and Danes, it's universally beautiful. It's the best book I've read so far in 2009.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars) - universally recommended
Pages: 226
Publication date: December 2007
Source: my local public library

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