Chitra Divakaruni’s One Amazing Tale about Strangers Together
A gossamer web of stories ensnares the reader in ‘One Amazing Thing,’ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel, taking you into distant lands, hidden places in the heart and into the hidden strengths people have.
Nine very different people drawn by chance or luck or destiny into the same spot just as disaster strikes. These are people you would hardly give a second look to, everyday people going about everyday chores. They are all gathered for obtaining visas to India in the basement of the Indian consulate in an unnamed American city when a powerful earthquake strikes.
As the building collapses around them, they are marooned together, unable to escape, stuck without food and light, with the water rising around them. They are strangers in a strange world, and are slowly losing their cool and civility as the situation worsens.
In order to help them keep their sanity, one of them, Uma, suggests they tell each other one amazing thing in their lives which they haven’t shared with anyone ever. Slowly the stories come out and you realize that each life is unique, with its own turmoil and triumphs.
Divakaruni’s inspiration for the book came from the firsthand experiences she had volunteering with victims of Hurricane Katrina who had sought refuge in Houston, and then came Hurricane Rita and she found herself a victim, caught in the frenzy and the fear. It intrigued her to find different people reacted very differently to disaster, and that’s what formed the kernel of ‘One Amazing Thing.’
Chitra Divakaruni: Immigrant Journeys
In an earlier interview I had asked Divakaruni if she felt that the immigrant journey has become commonplace today and she had responded: “No journey is commonplace. Each person’s journey is unique and changes that person in a special way. I hope I am able to show that through my different characters.”
In this ambitious novel, she takes on a more diverse group of people, from different nationalities and walks of life. As their stories unfold, you get involved in the past of the victims in the water-clogged basement, and you see how the power of shared tales can bring disparate people together, making them into a community. The language is often lyrical, showing her roots in poetry, which I remember well from her early ‘Leaving Yuba City.’
I got a chance to explore the various themes which run through her books – women’s issues, immigration and the journeys of people – in a one-on-one interview with her for SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association, in a live webcast on Blogtalk Radio, introduced by Sree Sreenivasan, co-founder of SAJA and professor at Columbia University. Divakaruni, who has her finger on the pulse of the ever burgeoning South Asian Diaspora, was always articulate, upbeat and humorous in this hour-long interview. You can hear it here.
Chitra Divakaruni with Lavina Melwani on Blog Talk Radio
Related Post – I had done a comprehensive interview with Chitra Divakaruni earlier which ran in Hi! magazine. You can read it here.