Monday, May 03, 2010

Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

First line: When the first rumble came, no on in the visa office, down in the basement of the Indian consolate, thought anything of it.

From the inside cover: Late afternoon in a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their live-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. From Chitra Divakaruni, author of such finely wrought, bestselling novels as Sister of My Heart, the Palace of Illusions, and The Mistress of Spices, comes her most compelling and transporting story to date. One Amazing Thing is a passionate creation about survival - and about the reasons to survive.

My thoughts: This book was the pick for my April book club meeting. Had it not been for that, I am not sure this would have been something I would have picked up, although I am glad I did read it. While I didn't love the book, I did find it an interesting read.

I found the writing to be beautiful, with thorough descriptions and characterizations. There are quite a few parts of the book that I vividly remember due to the well-crafted writing. I enjoyed the stories each person told, although I was quite surprised that there were no reactions from the other characters after each story...that was mind-boggling to me. The constantly shifting point of view from character to character, between stories and current events, and changes from first to third person and back made the novel confusing for me to follow at times and I did find myself flipping back a few pages to see what was going on. My biggest issue with the book, though,  is the ending - I felt it was quite abrupt and did not tie everything together...not only do almost all of the character stories remain open ended and unresolved, the larger story leaves the reader hanging in a big way.

While I liked the premise of this book, I felt it could have been more.It's as if it didn't quite live up to it's name. All in all, a decent read...This is the first book I have read by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni but it will not be the last.

(I borrowed this book from the library.)


  1. I hate it when an author crafts this beautiful story and then can't quite figure out how to end it, so they just chop it off. Kind of like the equivalent of my students running out of ideas and just writing "the end" :)

  2. Ah yes, I hate when the mechanics of the writing jolt you out of the story instead of flowing smoothly so you lose yourself in its world. I had a similar experience with that in a book recently.


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