Saturday, January 29, 2011

One Amazing Thing

I've been a fan on Chitra Divakaruni for quite awhile. She often writes about Indian diaspora and sets most of her stories in San Francisco (where I used to live). I had the pleasure of seeing her read in San Francisco once and it really stuck with me - sometimes when I read her books, it's like she's reading to me. (It's not as creepy as it sounds...)

While One Amazing Thing ostensibly doesn't take place in SF (apparently Divakaruni now lives in Houston, of all places), to me it did - the fact that it's about a group of people stuck in an Indian consulate after a massive earthquake cements it for me.

What I really like about this quick read is that Divakaruni creates nine distinct characters, each of whom tell a story - one amazing thing - about their lives to their fellow captives to pass the time, and distract focus from their own terror, while they're trapped in an increasingly dangerous place. With that type of story, I think a lot of characters have a tendency to merge together and I have a hard time keeping them straight, but I never had that problem with this book.

It reminded me quite a bit of Douglas Coupland's Generation A, which I read last year. Both books are about how the stories of our lives, when shared, lead to a greater sense of community and understanding. This is a common theme in Divakaruni's books, in which characters from a wide variety of cultural and social backgrounds are forced to interact.

Here's one of my favorite parts:
"When had it happened? Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That's what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel - and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside."

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