Published by Hachette Books on February 2nd 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Literary
Source: Library Book
An acclaimed novel by the author of The Mistress of Spices, and Before We Visit the Goddess. Jhumpa Lahiri praises: "One Amazing Thing collapses the walls dividing characters and cultures; what endures is a chorus of voices in one single room."
Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.
When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. From Chitra Divakaruni, author of such finely wrought, bestselling novels as Sister of My Heart, The Palace of Illusions, and The Mistress of Spices, comes her most compelling and transporting story to date. One Amazing Thing is a passionate creation about survival--and about the reasons to survive.
I have to say, I really love going to multiple book clubs- it really pushes me to read books that aren’t my usual style. One Amazing Thing is one of those books that had been on my radar, along with the author, but who knows how long it would have been until I got around to reading it?
The author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is coming to a local high school to give a talk (One Amazing Thing was chosen as the Henrico County Reads official book), which is the reason it was our book club pick for March. I’ll be attending her talk on April 13th, and might write about it here.
The book was liked, if not loved, by most of us. For me it was a quick read (I read mostly in one day) and it was fast paced enough. A few people were skeptical that people in that situation would spill some of their deepest secrets, but I personally felt that the first story, told by the Chinese grandmother who was revealing that she spoke English for the first time to her granddaughter, definitely set the tone for the others to share.
The book is about a group of people, trapped in an unnamed American city after an earthquake. I tried to figure out which city the author chose, but the author means for it to be anonymous, so the places mentioned are found in cities all over the country- LA and NYC in particular. I have no idea why I went full out Nancy Drew on this, but at least it was fun to do a little research.
All the characters are at the Indian Consulate for a reason- either they work there or are planning on traveling to India soon. As they try to stay alive and calm, they each tell a tale. This is the part that I liked the best- depending on the character. Jiang’s tale of being a Chinese resident in India and falling in love with an Indian before the Sino-Indian war was heartbreaking and lovely and a part of history that I wasn’t very familiar with. Malathi’s story of working in a beauty salon in India that specialized in bridal makeovers (to help make women catch husbands) was funny, but it also brought to light the dangers women face in India- namely acid attacks.
A few of the other’s stories were good- Lily and Tariq, but other’s seemed weird- like the married couple, or Cameron (who’s supposed to be a Vietnam vet but his timeline doesn’t quite line up), or Mangalam, who married unwisely. They didn’t pack the same emotional punch, but I was mostly okay with that (except Cameron’s story- I thought his was going to be bigger).
The ending is ambiguous, which always makes for a good discussion. We had a large group that night, so it was fun to see who thought the ending was positive or negative, and who almost went insane because they can’t stand ambiguous endings.
One Amazing Thing was worth the read, and I’m surprised how much of it stayed with me… although that could be because I took a LOT of notes, and then typed them up. I plan on reading more of the author’s books in the future, I’m especially looking forward to The Mistress of Spices.
One Amazing Thing makes for a good book club discussion book. It didn’t change my life, but it did make me want to learn more about India’s history. I give it the Midnight Book Rating of: