From Publishers Weekly
The female protagonists of eight of the nine stories in Divakaruni's sensuously evocative new collection are caught between the beliefs and traditions of their Indian heritage and those of their, or their children's, new homeland, America. Nowhere is this dichotomy of cultures so well evoked as in the title story, in which Divakaruni's gift for writing image-filled prose illuminates Berkeley resident Ruchira's gift for painting mythic figures from Indian legends, and poignantly underscores a very contemporary marriage dilemma, which Ruchira solves by intuiting her dead grandmother's advice. Equally excellent is "The Names of Stars in Bengali," the beautifully nuanced story of a San Francisco wife and mother who returns to her native village in India to visit her mother, in which each understands afresh the emotional dislocation caused by stepping into "a time machine called immigration" that subjects them to "the alien habits of a world they had imagined imperfectly." One misses a similar level of sophistication in such stories as "The Blooming Season for Cacti," "The Love of a Good Man" and "The Lives of Strangers," all of which seem contrived, overwrought and predictable. Yet at her best, as in "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter" and "The Intelligence of Wild Things,'' Divakaruni writes intensely touching tales of lapsed communication, inarticulate love and redemptive memories. This is a mixed collection, then, but one worth reading for the predominance of narratives that ring true as they illuminate the difficult adjustments of women in whom memory and duty must coexist with a new, often painful and disorienting set of standards. Starting with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, India-born San Francisco resident Divakaruni has acquired a receptive audience, which undoubtedly will greet this new work with enthusiasm. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra.
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Divakaruni's narrative elegance serves not to reduce the emotional impact of her fiction but rather to concentrate and intensify it. After two enormously successful novels, including the splendid Sister of My Heart (1998), she returns to the short-story form with which she had such success in Arranged Marriages (1995). Classically shaped but spiked with the unexpected, these potent tales portray families shattered by violence and stretched to the breaking point between the wildly disparate worlds of India and the U.S. Each story revolves around a reflective and strong-willed heroine, most of whom left India with the intention of living lives both fuller and freer than the traditionally restricted routines of their grandmothers and mothers, only to find themselves floundering, unsure of how to proceed, what to believe, and who they are. In "What the Body Knows," an Indian woman living in the U.S. almost loses the will to live after the birth of her first child. "The Blooming Season of Cacti" traces a young woman's journey from the shock of her mother's death in a Bombay riot to an Indian community in the California desert, where she is undone by her panicked choice of fantasy over intimacy. In "The Intelligence of Wild Things," a young woman living in California, whose mother is dying in Calcutta, muses on the Bengali word abhimaan, which describes a "mix of love and anger and hurt." This is the very turmoil Divakaruni captures so indelibly in stories about doting Indian grandparents and skittish American grandchildren, a young mother unsure about whether she can forgive her father for abandoning her and her mother, and a young Indian American woman who travels to India after a suicide attempt to try and recalibrate her life. These hauntingly beautiful stories of epiphany and catharsis place Divakaruni in the vanguard of fine literary writers who touch a broad spectrum of readers. Donna Seaman
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