Review: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The amazing thing is that I finished this novel.

The premise of One Amazing Thing is a cliche: a group of people are trapped together after a disaster and they may die, but before they do, they are going to tell a story from their life — their one amazing thing.  It’s a mixed group, the sort of group you would call together for a photo shoot to show your commitment to diversity.  Their stories are sometimes interesting — there’s a ghost, a voodoo curse, and a misplaced aurora borealis.  There are bad marriages, lost love and even a dead kitten.  But none of it felt real to me. 

The story begins in the visa application office of the Indian consulate in an unnamed west coast city.  When an earthquake rumbles through, they are trapped in the basement office.  The power is off, no cell phone signals, broken water pipes, limited food and water, along with the distinct danger of aftershocks or additional collapse.  To pass the time as the water begins rising, Uma suggests they tell a story.

Uma is a young Indian woman with questions in her mind about her current love affair.  Tariq is a young Muslim man whose family has been persecuted in the wake of 9/11.  Mr. and Mrs. Pritchett are planning a trip to India that will either save their marriage or end it.  Lily is a troubled but gifted teen, waiting at the office with her Chinese grandmother.  Mr. Mangalam and Malathi are the visa officer and the office clerk, on the verge of an adulterous affair, and Cameron is a military veteran, trying to atone for past sins. 

The whole book felt forced to me — the group, the stories, the disaster.  The book even cheats you out of a decent ending, if you’re hanging around waiting for a moral.  I found myself thinking that this would almost certainly come out with one of those “book club guides” so that you wouldn’t miss any of the important moral points in your discussion.  One Amazing Thing might appeal to a certain kind of reader, but not to me.

My copy of One Amazing Thing was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

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