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Cat o’nine tales

Stories and the experience of story-telling bring together perfect strangers in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing, reports Meher M Ali.

books Updated: Apr 24, 2010 00:04 IST
Meher M Ali

One Amazing Thing
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
hamish hamilton
Rs 450 | pp 209

Stories and the experience of story-telling bring together perfect strangers in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing.

The story begins in a basement which is the Indian consulate. Nine individuals — an African American man named Cameron, an Indian American college student Uma, an old Chinese woman Jiang and her Goth granddaughter Lily, a white, wealthy and elderly couple Mrs and Mr Pritchett, a Muslim-American Tariq, a South Indian visa officer Malathi and, her boss Mangalam — get stuck there because of a massive earthquake.

Their deliverance, at least psychological, comes in the form of a hesitant suggestion by Uma who insists that each narrate a story from their lives for she believes that no one can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing. It clicks. And so Jiang begins her story.

The tales that these strangers share are intimate and life-affirming. In the process they seem to be freeing themselves of an old burden.

Divakaruni’s strength lies in the fact that she captures the diversity of her characters impeccably. Her language and style, for instance, change depending upon the narrator’s identity. When she writes in Malathi’s voice, we can hear a south Indian woman speak.

If there is one story that captures the essence of the book it has to be Jiang’s. While living in Calcutta, she falls in love with a Bengali man. The lovers don’t meet as their families object. Jiang leaves following the outbreak of the 1962 Indo-China war. What is amazing is that she falls in love again, with her Chinese husband whom she is forced to marry. “We think terrible events have turned us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel — and suddenly it is an axe, breaking us into pieces from the inside.”

One Amazing Thing is a story of how in tragedy ordinary people can show resolve. Their strength comes from the stories that they carry within themselves.

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