Saturday, February 05, 2011

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I needed some non-mysteries to add to the list for next week's brown bag luncheon, and I came across Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing.  In the spirit of Chaucer or Scheherazade, Divakaruni's characters tell stories to keep themselves going.  It's a difficult concept to carry off.  The author made a valiant attempt, but I would have liked more details in each story.     

The setting is an Indian consulate in an American city.  A number of people are waiting for visas to India, while others are working in the building when an earthquake hits, killing some, and leaving nine survivors.  The nine survivors are trapped beneath rubble when part of the ceiling collapses, but manage to find their way out with the help of Cameron, an African American who had assisted in the aftermath of the Mexican earthquake.  He knew not to try doors, to stand under doorways in case of an aftershock, and to divide up the remaining food and water.  But, it was Uma, a college student reading Chaucer, who came up with the idea of asking each survivor to tell a story of their life.  She said everyone had a story about one amazing thing in their life, and she was hoping they'd share. 

As they told their stories, angry, frightened people became a community.  They grew to understand each other a little more, from the Chinese grandmother, whose granddaughter didn't even realize her grandmother spoke English, to the angry Muslim young man, who was trying to change himself for the Indian woman he loved.  As they grew to understand each other, people began to share more of the food they had hidden, and began to care more about surviving together. 

The storytelling technique worked beautifully to unify the survivors. And, it works well in the book.  I just wish One Amazing Thing had been a little longer, to allow more character development, and more background.  Even so, I'm sharing it with my audience this week.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website is

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  Hyperion, ©2010. ISBN 9781401340995 (hardcover), 220p.

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bermudaonion said...

It must be wonderful to make you want more!

Lesa said...

Funny, Kathy, I wouldn't describe it as wonderful, but I was a little frustrated that there wasn't more character development.

Marilynne said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. I'll look for it.

I find I have my head in a mystery so often that once in a while I need to try something else. Something that makes me think a little.

Lesa said...


Do I have a book for you tomorrow! I'm reading a few different things because I'm getting ready for the brown bag luncheon on Wednesday. As much as I like mysteries, I'm sure they don't come just to hear about 15 mysteries. LOL

Kris said...

Hmm..I've heard good things about this one, now I'm interested in what I'll think of it. Wonder if I'll wish it had been longer.

Lesa said...

As I said, there was a particular reason I wanted it longer, so the author had more opportunity to develop the characters. So, we'll see what you think, Kris.