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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]