Review

One Amazing Thing

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel, ONE AMAZING THING,
has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Unfortunately,
it’s the kind of publicity that an author would rarely court,
even if it results in high-profile interviews, glossy profiles and
an uptick in book sales. The recent Haitian earthquake, which has
increased global attention on this poor and, in many ways, isolated
country, has also brought increased attention to Divakaruni’s
book, which is set in the immediate wake of a devastating
earthquake.

As people watch on television scenes of desperation and unlikely
rescues in Haiti, they may have a tendency to imagine what life is
like following such a harrowing natural disaster, particularly for
those desperate individuals trapped below acres of rubble, waiting
for a rescue that might never arrive in time. ONE AMAZING THING is,
on the simplest level, this kind of imagining fleshed out into a
powerful novel, one that will resonate with everyone who has
witnessed this recent earthquake.

Of course, ONE AMAZING THING is far more than a simple survival
story. It is the culmination of many of the author’s
long-standing themes, as well as a contemporary fable about the
walls that separate all of us --- and about the powerful
connections that can be discovered when those walls come crashing
down.

The novel begins innocuously enough: a young woman, Uma, sits in
the waiting room of the Indian passport office in an American city
that sounds very much like San Francisco. She is impatient and
entertains herself by observing the other people in the waiting
room, each of whom must have his or her own reason for intending to
visit India. “It was like a mini UN summit in here,”
thinks Uma. And that’s when the earthquake strikes.

When the dust settles, there are injuries large and small, and
people’s true natures come to the surface as they often do in
desperate situations. One man, Cameron, an African American war
veteran, takes immediate charge, but his brusque, take-charge
manner rubs some of the other strangers the wrong way, particularly
the young Muslim Tariq, who some view with suspicion. Tariq has his
own reasons for being suspicious and defensive, but, as with the
other members of the assorted company, his full story remains a
mystery until, in the wake of a violent outburst triggered by fear
and near-panic, Uma has a brainstorm.

She has been reading Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES, in
which an assorted band of pilgrims tell each other tales --- bawdy,
insightful, entertaining --- to pass the time and form connections.
Why not do the same sort of thing, both to stave off despair and to
find common ground? “Everyone has a story,” Uma tells
the group. “I don’t believe anyone can go through life
without encountering at least one amazing thing.” And so the
survivors, in turn, tell each other their “one amazing
thing” and discover much about each other --- and themselves
--- in the process.

ONE AMAZING THING is the kind of novel that will stick in
readers’ heads for a long time. Whether because it changes
their perception and understanding of contemporary India and of
minority groups in our own country, or because it inspires
introspection --- encouraging people to identify that “one
amazing thing” in their own lives --- Chitra Banerjee
Divakaruni’s latest effort is a moving testament to the power
of story.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 13, 2011

One Amazing Thing
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Voice
  • ISBN-10: 1401340997
  • ISBN-13: 9781401340995