Amulya Malladi is the author of the new novel The Copenhagen Affair. Her other novels include A House for Happy Mothers and The Mango Season. In addition to writing, she works as a marketing executive for a global medical device company. After living in Denmark for 14 years, she moved to California in 2016 and lives in Orange County.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Copenhagen Affair, and for your main character, Sanya?
A: I love Copenhagen. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. A few years ago I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t getting published, my day job was stressful, I was pretty sure my marriage was coming to an end – I was depressed. I started to write The Copenhagen Affair as a way to laugh. Since I read everything I write to my husband, I thought he could also have a laugh in process. I never thought it would get published because I wrote this one just to have some fun.
In some ways, Sanya is the character I have written who is closest to me. Slightly off balance (or more than slightly), irreverent and trying to find that place for herself where she’s happy. She’s not all me. I was never a people pleaser, but there are parts of Sanya that I recognize very well.
Q: You’ve noted that you’ve experienced depression. Why did you decide to include depression as a focus of the novel, and did your own experiences factor into those of your character?
A: Oh, absolutely! Sanya’s depression is a lot like my depression. You feel guilty for being depressed because you really don’t have a problem. I remember a friend told me, you have a great husband, awesome kids, lovely house … what exactly is your problem? Subtext – you’re a drama queen.
I’m a high-functioning depressive. I can work. I can throw a party. I can socialize. I also can spend 10 hours straight on one of those long flights crying for the most part (hoping no one notices).
Mental health is still taboo. People don’t talk about seeing a therapist and it’s worse in Denmark where it’s all about crisis control rather than continual mental health. I always surprise people at work when I easily say, “Oh I’m going to work from home that day as I have a therapist appointment in the middle of the day.” You could say you’re seeing the dentist and no one cares but you say you’re seeing a therapist and 15 eyebrows shoot up. Why?
In writing Sanya I also hoped that women (because we refuse to admit when we have a problem so as to not inconvenience others or feel like drama queens) will relate and not ignore their needs but get help and live a fuller life.
Q: You lived in Copenhagen for many years. What do you hope readers who may not be familiar with the city take away from your portrayal of it in the novel?
A: The Copenhagen I describe is my Copenhagen. These are the places I went to. Someone else’s Copenhagen will be different, obviously. I wrote about it as a love letter to the city I love—but I find that nearly every early review I read ends with the reviewer adding Copenhagen to their travel list. That’s heartwarming.
I want people to see Copenhagen as this foodie capital with walking streets and outdoor cafés; with bad weather and old buildings with green turrets; the new harbor and the minimalist design and …
Q: What do you think the book says about marriage?
A: I think the book says that marriage is tough and ever-evolving. It’s not a static thing. As we grow—and we’re married, we can grow together or grow apart. I also wanted to show that marriage has layers. You don’t just love all the time or hate all the time or want each other all the time.
The biggest problem with long marriages like the one Sanya and Harry have (and the one I have) is that we fall into habits and someone compromises on one thing or the other and it becomes the norm and someone is steadily unhappy with the compromise—and if you don’t fix it, one day, it all goes boom!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I recently moved to L.A. and I was talking to my agent about how I find “geography” difficult. I envy the writers who write about a small town or a home town because I have moved so much and travel so much that I feel unauthentic writing about a place I don’t know well. She had commented on my shoes and I told her I bought them in Macau and that’s when she said, “Why not write about that—the travel, that life—where your geography can be an airport, an airplane …?”
So came to be a quarter of a first draft of The Nearest Exit Maybe Behind You—I think of it as the fictional Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb