Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing opens with a young woman sitting in an Indian passport and visa office in an unidentified city in the United States (my guess is somewhere in California). She observes the employees and the other varied strangers seeking travel visas to India. An older couple with marital problems, an ex-soldier tormented by his demons, an angry and militant youth, a perky granddaughter with her decades silent grandmother, employees of the visa office who are flirting with having an affair…each of them, along with their youthful observer, have a story.
When an earthquake leaves them trapped underground with diminishing expectations of rescue and few resources to sustain them, each is tasked with revealing just one amazing thing they have experienced in life.
Have you ever had the experience of being so totally into a novel that you only come up for air to wonder what other books the author has written, and how fast you can get your hands on more? *Nods.* Yup. I felt that way about Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s book One Amazing Thing. I had to reassure myself with a quick google search that there were indeed more of her books out there just waiting to be read and enjoyed. Whew! There are 14 more!
One of the great joys of this book is the way that Divakaruni is able to develop the characters so completely through the little ways they interact with each other. How they handle themselves in the aftermath of the earthquake. The characters were varied and I initially reacted to each of them differently as a reader, much the way they had different opinions of each other as they are sitting in the waiting room, and then again later on after it is clear that a catastrophe has occurred. Some of them I liked immediately, some I didn’t like right of the bat- but warmed to, and others I never liked, but understood and rooted for nonetheless.
I love the method that Divakaruni used for exposition of each of the characters and why they were in the passport office in the first place. It’s easily read on the book jacket, but I am glad that I didn’t look at it until after I read the book. The story was able to unfold naturally for me and I enjoyed each surprise. This book is all about relationships, the burdens of the past that we carry, and how they sneak up on us and affect our every day decision making in ways that we often don’t examine.
One Amazing Thing is a beautiful book that illustrates perfectly that if we had any inkling of each others experiences, we would approach each other with more compassion and understanding, if not in friendship and love.