Book review: One Amazing Thing

one-amazing-thingI remember being blown away by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Arranged Marriage. At that point in my life, it seemed to perfectly capture the cross-generational conflicts that were swirling around people my age. After that it became a ritual to grab a copy of her newest book at the library or bookstore.

But, eventually, her writing palled. Exposed to other diasporic writers whose craft was leaner and less florid, Divakaruni’s gushy style grew a little tiresome. I think I must have stopped reading after Unknown Errors of Our Lives (though I did read the Conch Bearer aloud to my child).

With One Amazing Thing, though, Divakaruni returns to a crisp, almost minimalist, style of writing that reminds one of all the reasons why she was so popular in the first place. It is a slim tome, barely 250 pages or so, and so absorbing that the words whiz by at warp speed, not even allowing one to pause to admire the literary style.

A motley group of would-be travelers waits for visa approvals at an Indian visa and passport office in an unknown city. When a massive earthquake strikes, they are thrown together in a struggle for survival. Quickly, roles are delineated; the leader, the caregiver, the rebel. After an abortive attempt at escape, the group realizes they are better off waiting for rescue. As water slowly seeps into their safe haven and  oxygen levels deplete, they decide to share the tale of one amazing thing in their lives to keep their minds off impending doom.

Not all the stories are equally compelling, but Divakaruni makes a capable attempt at creating the voices of a varied cast-there is an old white couple, a punk Chinese teenager and her grandmother, a black army vet, an Indian graduate student, Indian visa office bureaucrats, and an angry Muslim young man. The voices are credible and the stories interesting. As they tell their stories we get a glimpse into these diverse lives, only to witness the common thread that makes every human story recognizable and familiar.

With One Amazing Thing, Divakaruni gets her writing mojo back; fans will be delighted with the book and new readers will be appreciative.

This is an early review. The book arrives on the shelves in February 2010 and is available to pre-order at Amazon.

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