Author Amulya Malladi has tried her hand writing drama (A Breath Of Fresh Air, 2002), comedy (The Mango Season, 2003), and dramedy with an edge (A House For Happy Mothers, 2016). For her seventh opus, it seems Malladi has decided to add a new repertoire to her oeuvre: travelogue. The result is The Copenhagen Affair, which is best described as being a mixed affair.
Sanya, the protagonist, is presented as the perfect wife and mother who does it all. She competently juggles a home, a family, and a demanding career as an accountant. Sanya’s husband, Harry, also has a high profile job in the IT industry. Their 18-year-old daughter is in university and living away from home.
Things Fall Apart
Then the perfect facade breaks when Sanya has a nervous breakdown at work. As a result, three months later, she still has difficulty getting out of bed much less tending to Harry’s needs.
Here, Malladi attempts to inject a sense of self-loathing and feelings of unattractiveness into Sanya’s psyche. The author emphasises how she can’t do even the simplest of tasks – to the point of being repetitious. A little judicious editing of these scenes would have made the story flow better.
Fed up with Sanya’s hopelessness, Harry makes the unilateral decision that both of them are relocating to Copenhagen for a year, as he has business to take care of in the Danish capital.
The change of scenery, however, proves almost too much, as Sanya consequently experiences culture shock. Being an American of Indian descent, she is a dark skinned woman with an American accent in a city of pale blondes with a Scandinavian lilt.
It is at this juncture that I found myself relating to Sanya’s problems. The character tries to fit into Danish society, attempts to learn the language, and tries not to be bothered by racial slurs made by the Danes. Anyone who has been an outsider in a foreign culture with a population predominantly different from you can empathise with Sanya’s distress.
Sadly, instead of taking the black swan in a pond of white ducks approach, Malladi decides to take Sanya on a tour of Copenhagen. She describes the various streets, bridges and sections of the city that divide the rich from the poor, the immigrants from the locals, the coloured from the whites.
And instead of exploring the cultural differences that she touched on, Malladi takes the travelogue direction, with Sanya traipsing through various cafes, restaurants and museums. At this time, I suspected that Denmark, and in particular Copenhagen, had a special place in Malladi’s heart. And sure enough, in the acknowledgements, Malladi states she lived in Denmark for 14 years.
The novel’s least believable aspect is when Sanya meets the mysterious Anders, whose company Harry is set to take over. In a Mills & Boon-esque twist, Malladi has Anders show a sexual interest in Sanya, who, while flattered that someone other than Harry thinks she is attractive, is in two minds about pursuing this affair. Sanya’s indecision could have had a greater impact if Malladi had not chosen to drag it on for chapters.
The Copenhagen Affair touches on numerous topics. These include mental health, adapting to a new culture, Denmark, marriage and infidelity, family, friends and love. It is a shame that Malladi could not decide on what to focus on. The book suffers from having too many ideas.
It is very apparent that Malladi is besotted by Copenhagen. The parts where she describes various streets, cafes and architecture are thoroughly researched and written with adoration. This, in the end, is the redeeming aspect of The Copenhagen Affair.
The negatives aside, The Copenhagen Affair is an easy read. If the reader does not question the absurdities surrounding the plot line, the novel can be quite engaging. Therefore, this one is really for fans of Malladi’s work and for those who fancy exploring the titular Danish city.