In an unnamed American city, seven people wait to apply for visas to visit India. When an earthquake rips through the city, two workers from the Indian visa office are trapped along with the strangers: a Chinese teenager and her grandmother who speaks no English; an older Caucasian couple who have little to say to once another; a young Muslim-American man who trusts no one; an Indian graduate student facing family conflicts over her love life; and an ex-military African-American with breathing problems, with only a few puffs left on his inhaler.
As time passes, the smell of gas begins to permeate the office, conflicts arise and supplies of food and fresh water dwindle. Their situation becomes increasingly dire and these nine individuals must overcome their prejudices and fears if they wish to survive. And so they take it in turns to share a story from their life – showing the power of story to transform, heal and sustain a group of strangers.
I should admit right from the start that I have long been a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, ever since I read Mistress of Spices and Sisters of My Heart. Each new novel is a treasure to be savoured, requiring restraint to make it last. So it was with eager anticipation that I began her newest, One Amazing Thing.
Unlike her earlier works, I was not immediately carried away by her words. It required perseverance to carry on reading and my initial reaction was one of avoidance. I was shocked, because Divakaruni’s evocative language still carries power and the ability to transport readers: “The dark was full of women’s voices, keening in a language he did not know, so that at first he thought he was back in the war. The thought sucked the air from his lungs and left him chocking.”
As I read these words I could feel the claustrophobia and fear the characters were feeling and I realized – the “real” world has carried so many images recently of the terrible devastation caused by earthquakes; first Indonesia, then Haiti and now Chile that One Amazing Thing strikes too close to home for me to give an honest review.
I finished the novel in a fairly short period, roughly a week. Some of the stories engaged more than others and her choice to write the novel as a set of connected stories, similar to The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron has great possibilities. I suspect that in six months or a year this will be a novel I read again and find much to exclaim about. For now, I have news footage from Haiti playing in my head.
Publication Date: February 2, 2010
Author Website: www.chitradivakaruni.com