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One Amazing Thing    by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni order for
One Amazing Thing
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an award-winning writer and poet, captures the reading audience with her lyrical prose. Her novels (translated into eighteen languages) include Sister of My Heart, The Mistress of Spices, and The Palace of Illusions. Two of her novels have been made into movies.

One Amazing Thing is set in a passport and visa office somewhere in America. Approaching the end of the office day, seven people still wait for interviews for passage to India. The office supervisor and counter clerk are among the cast of nine, of diverse backgrounds and ages. An earthquake traps them in the basement.

The character-centered story includes: a punky teenager with an unexpected gift; an upper-class Caucasian couple whose marriage is disintegrating; a young Muslim-American man who is struggling with the fallout of 9/11; a graduate student haunted by a question about love; an African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption; a Chinese grandmother with a secret past and her granddaughter; and two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

The African-American Vietnam military vet monitors and organizes, directing the group's survival. Food and drink is at a minimum as each person is asked to place what they have on a table. The building begins to fill with water as they sit on tables, then chairs placed on tables. Each individual is under stress, psychologically and emotionally. Some are calm but one in particular is determined to get out of the building, even though opening a door might cause the ceiling to collapse, or let larger amounts of water and debris enter the room.

To ease the tension of the group, graduate student Uma suggests that each member tell a personal tale, i.e. One Amazing Thing never revealed to anyone. Topics include romance, marriage, family situations, and political stance. Self-discovery occurs as each story unfolds. The tension amongst the group brings out the best and the worst in each. The stories are captivating, heartbreaking, and revelatory, including the accountant telling of his impoverished childhood.

A few in the group panic and want to attempt getting out of the building, while some encourage and help others to realize that they need to focus on a collective struggle to survive this life or death situation. Divakaruni's plot is ominous and the telling is mind-grabbing and delicately suspenseful as her adept phrasing and characterizations shine through. The ending is left open for readers to decide what should, could, might, or will happen. One Amazing Thing is a story to embrace and will make you seek more of Divakaruni's work.

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