Friday, April 23, 2010

Trapped in a quake, they share stories

Award-winning author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's latest novel about people trapped during an earthquake gets new meaning in a year that has seen devastating quakes hit Haiti, Chile and China.

In One Amazing Thing, a group of nine people are trapped in the visa office at an Indian consulate in an unidentified American city. As they wait to be rescued, they tell each other stories -- sharing one amazing thing from their lives. Divakaruni, who teaches creative writing at the University of Houston in the United States, won the American Book Award in 1995 for her short story collection, Arranged Marriage. Her novel, Mistress of the Spices, was short-listed for the Orange Prize for women's fiction and also made into a film.

The author usually focuses on the experiences of South Asian immigrants, but this time, Divakaruni's characters are from different cultural backgrounds and have their own reasons for wanting to go to India.

One Amazing Thing, published in India in April, also explores their will to live and how they respond to a natural disaster. In an email interview from Houston, Divakaruni told Reuters about the genesis of the novel, her love of complicated narratives and her next project.

Where did the idea for One Amazing Thing come from?
“It was when I was volunteering with (hurricane) Katrina refugees who had come into Houston in 2005 that I first started thinking about the whole phenomenon of grace under pressure, which became a major theme in 'One Amazing Thing'. Some of the people I worked with were so angry. Some of them were devastated. But others were able to maintain calm, or even joke about things. I kept asking myself, Why? Why some and not the others? “A few weeks later I was experiencing a similar situation first-hand -- hurricane Rita was coming through Houston and we were asked to evacuate. As we sat on the freeway late into the night, paralysed by traffic and wondering what would happen to us, I saw people around me responding in many different ways.

The pressure brought out the worst in some and the best in others. Some were toting guns, snarling at people; others were sharing their meagre supplies of water and snacks. That's when I knew I'd have to write a novel about this phenomenon.”

Would you describe it as a novel about karma, about multiculturalism or the human will?
“I think it is all of the above. Or at least it questions the notions of karma and what they mean and how much we as humans can control our lives through our wills. Since in this book right at the beginning the characters are trapped by an earthquake in a visa office situated in the basement of a high-rise building, destiny or karma is obviously a force. “But how they choose to respond to this disaster -- that's where human will comes in. The novel is intentionally multicultural in its character make-up.

Full report here Daily Mirror

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