Title: One Amazing Thing
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genre: Contemporary fiction, multi-cultural fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing
First line: When the first rumble came, no one in the visa office, down in the basement of the Indian consulate, thought anything of it.
When an earthquake devastates the Indian visa and passport office, an unlikely group of companions are stuck together in the collapsed building: Lily, a rebellious Chinese teenager and her grandmother, Jiang; Uma, a college student planning to visit her parents, who have retired to India; Tariq, a Muslim young man who has good reason to distrust Americans; the Pritchetts, an upper-class white couple whose marriage is falling apart in the wake of the wife’s suicide attempt; Cameron, an African-American Vietnam vet who is trying to atone for his past; and Malathi and Mangalam, two consulate workers who are on the verge of an affair.
At first, they believe that rescue will be on its way shortly, and most of them are able to hold it together. As time goes by and food runs out, more of the ceiling caves in, and water begins rising through the carpet, panic begins to set in. Uma asks everyone to settle down and each tell a story from their life, a story of one amazing thing they had each experienced. The fear of death allows them to open up and share personal memories, stories of the twists and turns that life takes, stories of love and suffering and mistakes – demonstrating that deep down, they have more commonalities than differences.
I really wanted to love this little book. The premise sounded like it was exactly the kind of book that would grab me. I did like it, but I felt that the brevity of the book kept me from completely engaging with any of the characters. I got a small glimpse into their pasts and personalities, but not enough to make me truly anxious about whether or not rescue was on its way. Ms. Divakaruni has a gift, but I wish she had used it to go deeper. I understand that the way she chose to divulge the characters’ histories – through them telling their stories to the others – necessitated that the stories be brief, but in the end, I think it diluted the impact of the book.
(Disclosure: I received an ARC of One Amazing Thing from Library Thing for the purpose of review. Many of the links on my site are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)