From Publishers Weekly
In a soggy treatment of catastrophe and enlightenment, Divakaruni (The Mistress of Spices
) traps a group of nine diverse people in the basement of an Indian consulate in an unidentified American city after an earthquake. Two are émigrés who work for the consulate; the others are in the building to apply for visas. With very little food, rising flood water, dwindling oxygen, and no electricity or phone service, the victims fend off panic by taking turns at sharing the central stories of their lives. Oddly, the group spends little time brainstorming ways to escape, even when they run out of food and water, and sections of ceiling collapse around them. They wait in fatalistic resignation and tell their tales. Some are fable-like, with captivating scene-setting and rush-to-moral conclusions, but the most powerful are intimate, such as the revelations an accountant shares about his impoverished childhood with an exhausted mother, her boyfriend, and a beloved kitten. Despite moments of brilliance, this uneven novel, while vigorously plumbing themes of class struggle, disillusionment, and guilt, disappoints with careless and unearned epiphanies. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
After the glorious complexity of The Palace of Illusions (2008), Divakaruni, who also writes for young readers, presents a wise and beautifully refined drama. When an earthquake hits, nine men and women of diverse ages and backgrounds are trapped in an Indian consulate. Cameron, an African American Vietnam vet, takes charge, striving to keep them safe. College student Uma, who brought along The Canterbury Tales to read while waiting for clerk Malathi and her boss Mangalam to process her papers, suggests that they each tell an “important story” from their lives. Their tales of heartbreak and revelation are nuanced and riveting as Divakaruni takes fresh measure of the transcendent power of stories and the pilgrimage tradition. True, the nine, including an older couple, a young Muslim man, and a Chinese Indian grandmother and her granddaughter, are captives of a disaster, but they are also pilgrims of the spirit, seeking “one amazing thing” affirming that life, for all its pain, is miraculous. A storyteller of exquisite lyricism and compassion, Divakaruni weaves a suspenseful, astute, and unforgettable survivors’ tale. --Donna Seaman