Sharing Books and Authors, with an emphasis on Mysteries.
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.