Tag Archives: chitra banerjee divakaruni

Before we visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

BeforeWeVisitTheGoddess FC Title: Before we Visit the Goddess
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471146930
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I started reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books in about 2001. I clearly remember being fascinated then by the writing and surprisingly still am. Every time there is a book by her, I devour it. I am somehow taken in by the writing that is so lucid and the interpersonal relationships that stand out so strong in all her books. Whether she is speaking of Draupadi in “The Palace of Illusions” or trying to deal with cousins and their lives in “Sister of my Heart”, she sure knows her craft and is the top notch mistress of it.

“Before we visit the Goddess” is her latest book and to be honest, I think it is way better than the others (that’s saying something) and very taut in its writing. It is a story of three generations of mothers and daughters – spanning right from West Bengal and leading to Texas – a sort of back and forth – not only between terrains but also emotions and lifestyles.

The book is about a family that is torn apart by love, ambition, pride and the need to belong. It starts with Sabitri, daughter of a poor banker in rural Bengal and the decisions she makes that will rock not only her world but also those of her daughter Bela’s (even though she manages to escape to America, falsely thinking that the past is well behind her) and her granddaughter Tara’s who will learn and unlearn love the hard way.

I think more than anything else it is the uniqueness (or not for some) of the plot that had me going. The voices are strong, fearful, uncertain and only human at the end of it all – as the story progresses and reaches an end which is quite unpredictable.
The writing as usual is succinct and not too long. At no point did I feel that I did not know the characters or wanted the book to be longer. It is just right. The pace of the book is languid – the way it should be – the descriptions rich and in full detail, making you wait as a reader about what’s going to happen next.

“Before we visit the Goddess” is an honest book revealing the emotions, the decisions and lives across time and generations of women – each trying to find their own existence and home. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am sure so will you. A must read.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Following an earthquake severe enough to damage the building containing the Indian consulate nine people are trapped in the visa office located in its basement. Seven of them are there to apply for an Indian visa, two are the last remaining office workers. One of the applicants, a student of Medieval Literature, has brought her copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with her. This suggests to her the idea of having each of the trapped people tell a story, some encounter with one amazing thing that may help to pass the time and keep their minds off the stifling conditions and the increasing mortal danger. As in Chaucer’s poem all of these characters come from disparate backgrounds and are on a pilgrammage (of sorts). The multicultural background of these characters creates a microcosm of the world in a room, a stationary Pequod in which human frailty and the universality of suffering seems never to deter the quest for happiness or our incessant search for meaning.

As they tell their tales, some with an autumnal poignance that is like the fast dying light of the early setting sun, others that are filled with an anger and bitterness that seems to increasingly typify an alternate American experience for those caught in the snare of recent history, we discern something deeper in the manner in which the author lets these stories unfold. As the characters struggle on the knife-edge of calamity, living a nearly posthumous existence even as they try to fend off the darkness, we are engrossed in their past struggles as much as their current travails. Through Divakaruni’s creative alchemy we are drawn to the power of stories to reveal who we were, what we are and what we hope to become. As the darkness draws near, we watch these troubled lives begin their ghostly flickering, entombed in what one of them describes as a “damp mausoleum”. The author shows us with stunning simplicity and skill that after we die all that may remain are our stories. And for the solace they offer and the instruction they bring these stories need to be told as much as they need to be heard.

The story moves back and forth between the characters’ stories and the present situation in the office. As they struggle to survive the tension builds. They must put aside individual needs for the common good, and trust their lives to strangers. The result of this perfectly balanced story is like a literary symphony; it builds, swells to a taut crescendo, and leaves you haunted by the last echoing strains of the tale. As they struggle with whether to fight for survival or resign themselves to dying in the rubble, the stories provide both a distraction and a reason to keep going.

One Amazing Thing combines suspenseful action with a spiritual insight into matters of life and death. As the characters fight for survival, their passion for living and the crushing disappointments of their lives all come into play. In an easy-to-read light yet poetic prose, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s words flow with a simplicity that gets to the heart of the issues while leaving enough unsaid to allow the reader’s imagination to enter the story. While one scene flows naturally to the next, the chapter and sub-chapter divisions within the narrative work at odds with the natural flow of the story. The breaks do not always correspond to the speaking voice or to specific events. Quite frankly, the text flows smoothly without all these divisions on account of the author’s skill so that at times the divisions seem superfluous or stop the smooth flow that would exist without them. The ending might not satisfy readers who prefer all questions resolved at the end, especially since the suspenseful plot drives forward towards the end, and yet others, like myself, might find the ending a most satisfying ending all the more so because it respects the almost mystical, spiritual dimension of life opened up by the characters’ stories. 

The book keeps a reader glued to the pages, anxious to find out the fate of the characters but also wanting to never quite reach the ending in hopes of witnessing more revelations in the intimate look into the characters’ hearts. It is not a disaster survival book laden with physical how-to details nor are the fleeting portraits heavy in psychological detail. Rather,One Amazing Thing, like the moment it portrays, is a quick glance at a moment in time, a moment marked by points of spiritual and emotional conflict as the characters struggle to survive. Easily read within one sitting, the narrative satisfies a desire for a light read that nevertheless touches spirituality or something beyond the everyday reality, a spirituality that is not overly preachy or defined by division. Part of the charm of this story resides in the empty spaces and details that the author leaves up to the imagination of the reader.

One Amazing Thing; Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee; Hamish Hamilton; Penguin India; Rs. 450

Currently Reading

So I bought a new copy of “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen as mine has come of age. The binding is in two with pages strewn all over the place once I even attempt to open the book. So now that I have a brand new copy I am re-reading it and loving it as much as I did while reading it 4 times before! Love this classic…

The next book that I am reading with “Mansfield Park” is “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It is the Mahabharata told from Draupadi’s perspective and till now it is going great! Can’t wait to finish these two…