Mango Blood

Fiction - Literary
480 Pages
Reviewed on 12/09/2022
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Mango Blood by Maryvonne Fent is the historical fiction sequel to Fent's novel, The 35-cent Dowry, and picks up where the previous book left off. For those who have not read the first book, the main protagonist is Minouche, a young Frenchwoman, who married her Polish boyfriend Stefan and they are starting a life together in India. The novel reads perfectly well as a standalone but the reader who skips book one is robbing themselves. Fent begins with a heartbreaking scene of a young girl in the last days of British India whose life was destroyed while walking home from dance lessons. The story then moves to Minouche in India and the steady breakdown of her marriage to Stefan, who is increasingly intolerant of Minouche's independent ideas about who she wants to be and what she wants to do. India embraces Minouche in every conceivable way, and as she blossoms from a naïve young girl in love to a woman in her own right she starts to thrive, only to be thwarted once more by men who believe Minouche is pushing the boundaries too far.

I had mixed feelings when I started reading Mango Blood because the stories of white women trying to find themselves and fix what they see as backward in other cultures tend not to end well. I am South Asian and lived there until I was 20. My parents were born in India and lived through the Partition and bloody mass migration. I'm sensitive to how stories like these are told but found that Maryvonne Fent is among the more sensitive writers describing a time, place, and outlook that, to most who survived, cannot be spoken of. By using Minouche's point of view we are given an imperfect character who feels authentic in her perception of life in India even when it is flawed. It is the imperfections that humanize her and in doing so Fent makes her into someone we care about. The plot is a slow burn but the pace never falters. Growing up in the shadow of colonialism is going to change how I viewed a lot of Fent's characters, and I say that because I want to point out the importance of this. I saw Fent's characters. I don't know that a better compliment can be paid to an author than one that shows the people and scenes they crafted feel real enough to see. Well done.

Jamie Michele

Mango Blood by Maryvonne Fent is a literary historical fiction novel set in India as the sun sets on the 1950s, and the second book in its series, preceded by book one, the critically acclaimed novel, The 35¢ Dowry. The novel revolves around a young woman named Minouche who followed her heart, which was held by a man named Stefan, to the subcontinent where he seeks a full immersion in spiritual enlightenment. Now married, Minouche settles into married life, but not quite at the pace or with the enthusiasm for quiet submission that Stefan begins to expect. He has his own goals and Minouche's are secondary to his vision, and her desire. Minouche navigates her education in India from dance to the veena to theater to a degree that suits her more than Stefan. In this capacity, her life changes once more; at a crossroads between a friend she wants to desperately help and the very real possibility that her dreams may come to an end. “I wasn’t sure my marriage would work. Still... without him I may never have found my way to this country that filled my heart with awe and learning.”

Mango Blood is a beautifully written work of historical fiction and Maryvonne Fent is exceptional at weaving emotion throughout the story and into the fabric of Minouche's experiences. I appreciated that the point of view character is Minouche and it is through her eyes that we are greeted with a new discovery in almost every scene of the tastes, sights, and delights of Madras. She is a woman of her time and so it is important to put the way we think today into our back pockets and allow her to tell her own story. I loved most of the characters Minouche surrounds herself with as friends and the community she cobbles together for herself as her marriage falls apart. Laila is about as complex a character as I've come across who isn't the main protagonist and doesn't have as much page time as lesser ancillary characters, which is a testament to Fent's skill as a writer. The book ends with some loose ends but this is a series worth following and I look forward to seeing what follows Mango Blood. Very highly recommended.

Vincent Dublado

Maryvonne Fent’s Mango Blood is the intense continuation of her coming-of-age novel that began with The 35¢ Dowry, where Minouche was an eighteen-year-old French student who met a Polish refugee named Stefan. In this second installment, Minouche, now married to Stefan, thrives in the cultural environment of South India in its post-independence during the 60s. Their marriage, however, will be put to the test on so many levels. Minouche decides to change the focus of her studies from dance to music, and Stefan worries about its repercussions on her grant. Then comes Laila, a former dance student and a victim of sexual abuse when she was thirteen. Minouche intends to help Laila rebuild her life, but Laila belongs to a caste that is overprotective of India’s art and culture, and it could prove costly to Minouche’s artistic pursuits.

Maryvonne Fent’s story keeps getting better with each new book. It has something to do with her evocative sense of setting and a feel for her characters as if she is wearing their shoes. Elements like color, character, personality, detail, and background all blend perfectly in a story that chronicles the life of a Parisian who falls in love with a culture that she has adopted as her own. You feel a strong empathy in the way Minouche tries to save her marriage and Laila at the same time. Fent earns intellectual and emotional responses because of the way she makes her prose sing. There is so much passion and determination in the story that it will move readers and leave a lasting impression. I can’t wait to read the third installment, The Dancing Foot. If you love reading powerful stories about assimilation, loneliness, and alienation, then you’ll find Mango Blood highly satisfying.

Rabia Tanveer

Mango Blood by Maryvonne Fent continues the story of Stefan and Minouche as they navigate their lives in India. Falling in love and marrying was the easiest thing that Minouche and Stefan ever did. However, now that they were in South India, things were different. Stefan was pursuing his studies at Madras University while Minouche found her passion in the veena, an ancient musical instrument. While the couple was trying to bridge the distance between them, they both had individual battles to fight. The biggest challenge confronted Minouche when she met the young and beautiful Laila. The daughter of a Brahmin, Laila was a former dancer and rape survivor. Meeting Laila ignited something inside Minouche. She wanted to help Laila reclaim her life. With music as their common interest, the two women learn to love their art. Somehow, Minouche must learn how to save her marriage too.

Although I haven’t read the previous novel in the series, I had no issues when forming a connection with Stefan and Minouche. The couple is endearing. While they did lose their connection at first, they worked hard to rebuild their relationship and make it better, although Minouche did much of the work. Stefan was struggling with the conflict between exploring his spirituality and furthering his education. However, the real star of the novel was Laila and how she regained her love of life. Minouche was such a strong influence on the battle-scarred Laila, while in turn, Laila had a positive impact on Minouche. She gave our protagonist something to fight for and find a reason to love the veena even more. Helping Laila assisted Minouche and that worked toward character development for all the major and minor role players. The plot was intricate, full of life and hidden nuggets. I highly recommend this novel.

K.C. Finn

Mango Blood is a work of fiction in the literary, interpersonal drama, and coming-of-age subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Maryvonne Fent. In this introspective, emotive, and truly fascinating read, the author lets us into the world of Minouche for the second time, following her marriage to the Polish refugee Stefan from book one in the series, The 35¢ Dowry. As Stefan’s continued quest for enlightenment seems fraught with disillusionment and academic pressure, Minouche discovers a new zest for music and a woman whom she feels compelled to help. But her desire to help Laila might cost her dearly in terms of her marriage and her own academic dreams.

Fans of cross-cultural writing and those with a spiritual and/or philosophical take on life will certainly find lots to enjoy in this in-depth and well-realized novel. Author Maryvonne Fent delivers a slow-burning tale that allows readers to really get to know her central cast of characters intimately, and through their eyes, we are introduced to the vividity of South Indian culture in the 1960s. The description and atmosphere of the setting and the various activities that Minouche and Stefan take part in felt more than cinematic. It was completely alive in all its sounds, colors, textures, and extrasensory perceptions, making the work a true escape from reality that will certainly satisfy the imagination. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Mango Blood to readers of the first novel in the series, but it also works well as a standalone read about settling into the realities of life beyond the idealized dreams of youth.