Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divakaruni

Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Divakaruni
Year Published: 2009

Genre: Adult mystery
Pages: 220
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 One catastrophic event. Nine strangers. One amazing story. The scene: Later afternoon in a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Out of nowhere, an earthquake rips through the lull, trapping nine disparate people together, with little food and no way to escape the slowly flooding office. When the psychological and emotional stress becomes nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student among them 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.

Review: I bought this book when it first came out in paperback about 5 years ago thinking it sounded so good I wanted to have my book group read it. They didn't choose it (and I brought it twice) and each time I read the back I thought, "that sounds good, but not for right now." And last night I finally told myself I had to try this book. Ha! I read it in just 24 hours!

I have no idea why I didn't read this book before; it's really good. The setting reminds me of Bel Canto, when a group of strangers is stuck together due to bad circumstances. The thought of being trapped in a basement after a major earthquake is just frightening, especially if you live in Californai like I do. I love the idea that Uma, the main character who happens to be reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales when the the earthquake hits, suggests they each tell a story. Why not? They are trapped together with no rescue in sight, and they may not make it out at all. The stories will pass the time and will distract them from the current situation. So the plot is a good one.

But talk about a character-driven book. Each one is important to the story: Uma the Indian graduate student; Cameron the African-American Vietnam vert; Mrs and Mrs. Prtichett are white and in their 60s; Lily is Chinese and with her grandmother, Jiang; Mangalam runs the passport office; Malathi is his employee; and Tariq is a Middle Eastern man who wanted a visa. Together they make quite a group that needs to negotiate food, water, the one bathroom, and their volatile personalities. The stories they tell are equalizers and give us great insight into not only the individuals, but into human nature in general.

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