In the basement visa and passport office of an Indian Consulate office, nine very different people are trapped together after a massive earthquake strikes. Their situation is grim, the hallways are blocked with shaky debris on the precipice of total collapse, phones and electricity are out and there is a broken water pipe somewhere that is soaking through the walls and slowly pouring into the space where the survivors await rescue. Injured, with little in the way of food or safe water, the survivors begin to take out their fear and frustration on each other. To distract each other from their situation, it is suggested that they each take turns sharing “one amazing thing” from his or her life. In the recounting of each story, we learn more about each person; what brought them here and who they really are.
I really wanted to love One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This short little novel, (only a couple hundred pages) starts well. We are introduced to the characters; their struggles in the aftermath of the quake are realistic and well told. It seemed a bit of a stretch to me that these total strangers would agree to tell each other of the one thing in their lives that made them who they were, but since I’ve never had a building fall down above me during an earthquake, I’m willing to give the benefit of a doubt. The individual stories start off really well. The first story is excellent and contained the best lines in the book:
“When had it happened? Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That’s what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel—and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside.”That’s a really beautiful bit of writing, isn’t it? So why the “meh” reaction to the book? I hated the end. Just loathed it. The book ends in one of those ambiguous ways that I suspect authors do because it allows us readers to come to our own conclusions. But I always sort of feel like I’ve been cheated when I read a book that ends this way. “C’mon”, I think, “you sucked me into these people’s lives, made me interested in people that you created and you didn’t bother to bring it to a conclusion??? Seriously??? If you’re gonna bother writing a book, for cryin’ out loud, finish the damn thing!!”
I know…I know….I’m cranky. And I shouldn’t be complaining about the author’s vision. It’s her baby after all, and I’m sure it turned out just the way the author and her editor wanted. The book is beautifully written, the stories are powerful and engaging. So if you’re not bothered by ambiguous endings…give it a read. Me? I probably should have given it a pass.
(Quote from an Advance Reading Copy and not checked against the final copy for accuracy... and I'm supposed to,I know I'm supposed to, I just don’t want to drive to the book store, pull the book off the shelf, find this page and check it, so... there you go...)
In my continuing effort to keep the fine folks at the FCC happy, I must disclose that this review is based on a book supplied from the publisher for review. While I may indeed, be capable of being bought off in exchange for a good review, I’m neither important enough or connected enough for anyone to offer me anything other than the Advance Reader Copy I received for review. And if I’m going sell off my integrity, it’s worth a whole lot more than a paperback copy of a “meh” book!