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[269] One Amazing Thing – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

” . . . I was careful to withhold the deep core of my being, my place in my mother that would have shattered if she had learned of my father’s betrayal. I didn’t realize—until this earthquake, until today—that my withholding was a worse kind of betrayal, a betrayal of the self. ” [218]

In an unnamed American city that most likely to be San Francisco, nine wildly disparate people, in age, background, and ethnicity, are trapped together in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake in an Indian visa and passport office.

The door maybe what’s holding up this part of the room. If you open it suddenly, something else might collapse. Also there may be a pile of rubble piling against the door from the outside. [12]

Under the supervision of Cameron, a Vietnam veteran, who is also black, not usually trusted by Indians, the group is able to negotiate away from danger temporarily while awaiting rescue. With meager food, rising flood water, threatening ceiling collapse, dwindling oxygen and no electricity or phone service, they fend off panic by taking turns at sharing an important story, “one amazing thing”, of their lives.

The trick to hold the secret of the story by continuing to foreshadow the consequence of disaster is smart but quickly backfires. Though unique enough, some stories are given the opportunity to reflect on the meaning in light of the current crisis, others just feel flat, shortchanging the reader. The predictable stories often conclude in a banality that is mindful of an Oprah moment, except the outcome is obvious from the beginning. Despite the rushed ending, new dalliances among the trapped victims are hinted and the message about class struggle and gratefulness is conveyed. That said, what still bothers me and is the ultimate shortfall: The book is incomplete.

220 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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23 Responses

  1. Predictable and banal??? count me out!

    • I know given the fact that people are trapped together after a catastrophe, the book is setting itself up for cliche. But I’m a little bit shocked how incomplete it is.

  2. Such a pity. The premise leaves the door open for so many great possibilities.

    • First of all I would like to welcome you to my blog. I notice you have commented on a few occasions now. I’ll make sure I go visit yours. 🙂 Back to the book: I thought it is very promising. But it’s too short when you’ve got 9 characters who are to develop a deeper bonding than just victims thrown together due to a disaster.

  3. When you were describing the plot, it did sound an awful lot like an Oprah thing. Which, you know, more power to her to push a story of hope, bravery, uplifting yada yada, but it can give you a real stomach ache.

    • Ha! Sandy, even the title is so Oprah, don’t you think? I feel that the ultimate Oprah moment comes toward the end…after everyone has shared the story, and there is this one major realization about self betrayal. It’s just very cliche.

  4. This sounds like an “amazing” concept that just doesn’t translate into a good book. It is a shame because I really like the premise.

    • Trust me I was riveted at the beginning and was expecting the characters to be fully developed. It’s a great premise for a story but the abundance of characters requires a bit more literary support to make them alive and interesting.

  5. I must say I liked this a bit more than you did.
    True it is short, to cover nine stories, but I don’t think it’s purpose to be exhaustive. It gives us a glimpse, as I think it intends to.

  6. I saw a glowing review of this recently, and it sounded like just my kind of thing. When I am in public buildings or on public transportation, I play a game of imagining the world ends and we are the only people left alive, and what would happen; so I like the idea of nine quite different people being stuck in with each other. Shame it wasn’t better for you!

    • I had that thought too now that I just got off from a plane that flew over the Pacific to Asia. What if there was a major major earthquake that hit the earth and split it into two, would I have felt it at all since I was up in the air? Morbid but not infeasible. Now back to the book. I love the setup of it, it just doesn’t deliver the way I want it to.

  7. I read the ARC and I found the “revealing amazing things” to be disappointingly trite and predictable. What isn’t predictable is the unexpected ending of the book. The premise is bright, but still it isn’t original.

  8. I liked the book up until the very end, which I also felt fell flat or rushed. I would say Mistress of Spices was a better book of hers.

  9. I have read another of her books “Arranged Marriage” a collection of short stories really and found them very good. Have done a review on my blog. Please come and visit.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I read good things about her other books as well, and this book will not be the last of hers for me. 🙂

  10. I was underwhelmed by the entire book – setting, plot, stories. Disappointed.

  11. […] A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook […]

    • One Amazing Thing is very very complete because it is like a patchwork of varied experiences in fact it is a journey of journeys especially the storyies of Jiang and Mr.Mangalam are quite touching

  12. I really enjoyed this novel because it reminded me of the Canterbury Tales Uma was reading as well as Satre’s No Exit. I think the ending is well played because ultimately the book is not about whether they get out of their cage, but what about they’ve learned from themselves and one another. While some of the stories were predictable, I think the writing is top-notch and is meant to ensure that readers come away with their thinking caps lit up and ready to examine their own lives and embark on new journeys of their own.

    Thanks for the review.

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