Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Penguin India
Before I get on to the review let’s get the facts straight – I am a die-hard fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Ever since I finished the last page of The Palace of Illusions, I have considered myself one of her biggest admirers. And in no less measure due to the Bengali – South Indian – American flavors of her stories, the exact medley that speaks to my soul. Considering this, I picked up One Amazing Thing late – very late indeed. Now that I am done with it, I wonder why the book is not as talked about in India as it should. In a country where almost every one writes with a desire to have their books turned into blockbusters, it is not surprising that One Amazing Thing did not create much of a buzz.
Ms. Banerjee Divakaruni is a keen student of human nature and understands thoroughly the tug of heartstrings. What better to reveal her understanding than the backdrop of a potentially life-threatening situation? Nine people of varied nationalities, backgrounds, ages, and races – strangers to each other – only united their presence at an Indian visa office of an American town. It is when an earthquake traps them that life, and our story, start to unfold. The reticent take charge, the rebellious fall in line, the boisterous fail at their attempts to make any impact, and the seemingly decrepit reveal a hitherto unknown strength. Food, water, and essentials are shared by unlikely partners. The story, however, is not all about mere reactions. Even as the trapped souls struggle to find coherence and hope, water starts to flood and a pipe leak is detected. All they can do now is to survive till the rescuers come. Or till their end.
The wait is a long, excruciating one. And the graduate student Uma suggests what one can best do to keep ones mind off the panic and fear – for each to tell the others of one amazing thing they may have seen or encountered in their lives. Each tale is a compelling look at the life of the characters – ordinary lives rendered extraordinary by small secrets, acts of pride and shame, internal conflicts, and overwhelming emotions. Each story is as varied in its history and outlook at the characters themselves – Grandma Jiang’s story of a forbidden love in Calcutta’s Chinatown, Mr Pritchett’s foundering marriage buckling against the burden of a troubled childhood, Uma’s directionless rebellion and return, Tariq’s anguished anger in the aftermath of 9/11, and Cameroon’s guilt and quest for redemption.
In this novel, Ms Banerjee Divakaruni showcases the power of storytelling, her own, and those of her characters. One often tends to lose oneself against the sway these overpowering tales and then the sudden tug of impending doom comes as a jolt. Back to the scramble of a worsening situation, hope and despair, and again an escape into another tale.
Our verdict – Go, grab it, if you haven’t read it yet. It may not change your life but it certainly will give you a macro perspective on people and happenings around you. At any rate, it will make you want to reflect on your own reactions to tragedy. And want to watch the Aurora Borealis, even if you have to travel to Alaska and not Texas.