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The Unknown Errors of Our Lives Hardcover – April 17, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (April 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038549727X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385497275
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,620,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the award-winning author of 18 books. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her work has been published in over 100 magazines and anthologies and translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. She has won numerous awards, including an American
Book Award and the internation Premio Scanno Prize. Divakaruni also writes for children and young adults.

Her latest novel is Oleander Girl (Simon and Schuster, 2013). Her upcoming novel is Before We Visit the Goddess (about 3 generations of women-- grandmother, mother and daughter-- who each examine the question "what does it mean to be a successful woman." April 2016, Simon & Schuster.)

Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies. Her novels One Amazing Thing and Palace of Illusions have been optioned. Her collection of stories, Arranged Marriage has been made into a play.

She was born in India and came to the United States to continue her education, receiving a Master's degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

She currently teaches in the nationally ranked Creative Writing program at the Univ. of Houston. She serves on the Advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco Bay Area and Daya in Houston, organizations that help South Asian or South Asian American women in abusive situations. She is also closely involved with Pratham, an organization that helps educate children (especially those living in urban slums) in India.

She has judged several prestigious awards, such as the National Book Award and the PEN Faulkner Award.

She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy and has two sons, Anand and Abhay (whose names she has used in her children's novels).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Divakaruni has done it again. The words simply flow as you read this book of short stories. I don't usually read short stories because it doesn't seem like there is enough time in 20 or so pages to become attached to a character but this author is the exception. Her stories are like short journeys that delve into the emotion of her characters leaving you closer to them than some authors can accomplish in an entire book. Each story is about a choice made, not always the best one for the moment but an adventure in living none-the-less.
In the first story she writes of a Grandmother who has emigrated from Calcutta to live in Sunnyvale, California with her son, his wife, and their two children. We are faced with her loneliness and yearning for a culture that is lost to her in this new country. I also moved to Sunnyvale from my home in New England and remember the feeling of displacement and longing I felt. I was an outsider who dressed differently and spoke with an accent; people were not always kind or receptive. I can only imagine how life changing it must be to come from another country; it is this emotion that the author expresses so clearly in not just the first story but throughout the book.
Divakaruni has enlightened us with her book of tales. She has made me feel at home in her characters heart. After reading her last book SISTER OF MY HEART, I realized that this author would always be my favorite, she is a master of her craft, and her new book has certainly not disappointed me. Kelsana 5/19/01
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Format: Paperback
"The Unknown Errors of Our Lives" is a collection of short stories by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that focuses on Indian women and their immigrant experience in America. In many ways, the subject matter of these stories are similar to those of Jhumpa Lahiri's "Interpreter of the Maladies" (a favorite book of mine). Many of the stories in Unknown Errors also deal with marriages of different sorts and in different stages: arranged marriages, engagements, deteriorating relationships.
The first story in the book is entitled "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter". This is a touching story about an older widow who moves from India to live with her son's family in America. Her son tells her "We want you to be comfortable, Ma. To rest. That's why we brought you here to America." Her attempts to share stories of India and cook traditional meals and help out around the house are looked down upon of by her daughter-in-law and she begins to feel un-welcomed. Life with her son and grandchildren in America isn't what Mrs. Dutta imagined it would be. Through Divakaruni's writing, the reader can feel Mrs. Dutta's pain and disappointment.
As in "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter" the story "The Intelligence of Wild Things" brings up issues of keeping Old World traditions alive after immigrating versus becoming Americanized. "The Intelligence of Wild Things" is about a woman who visits her younger brother, Tarun in Vermont. She discovers that his girlfriend is an American girl with "freckled skin and reddish-gold hair." She wonders how her brother who "had never wanted to come to America" has become so Americanized while she, who agreed to an arranged marriage in order to move to America, still clings to traditions she learned growing up in India.
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Format: Hardcover
This new collection of achingly beautiful stories from the author of Sister of my Heart is an elegant articulation of the immigrant experience and its varieties. It goes deeply into what it means to be displaced, uprooted, re-rooted either by time, place or relationships. The most touching story in the collection is entitled "Mrs Dutta Writes a Letter" which tells of a mother now joined to her beloved son's family in America. It depicts in such gorgeous details the mother's sense of dislocation, and her desire to put up a nice front for her son and those she left behind in India. When she finally got around to writing a letter as a response to a dear friend, she could not keep up with the "front" anymore and ended pouring out her real self to her friend in her letter. The story is a powerful evocation of the embodied interplay between duty and loyalty of a mother to a son, or son to a mother, love between them, tradition, the sense of being different, the sense of connection or absence thereof, and the pursuit of happiness, among others. It's got all the elements of what it means to be an immigrant, and how all these factors - love, compassion, duty, tradition, etc get into the mix. Another great moving story is "The Intelligence of Wild Things. It is a story of a sister who visited her brother to inform him, after long years of no communicaton between the brother and her mother, that their mother is dying. It is about failed communication, but it is also about the ways we communicate successfully without fully knowing it, as if inherent in us. Although "Indian" in setting, this could easily well be about anybody, for after all, the world has become so mobile, everyone becomes an "immigrant".
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Format: Hardcover
I love short stories and first discovered Divakaruni by reading a short story she wrote for a magazine. What struck me then and what strikes me now having read THE UNKNOWN ERRORS OF OUR LIVES is the similarity of the experiences of the heroines in her nine tales and my own experiences or those of "plain old American" female friends and relatives of mine. I believe Divakaruni writes tales almost any woman can understand and identify with...in the same way we understand our friend's confidences, stories like the "Little House" series American girls read as children, family myths, etc.
Most of us grew up with the idea we were moving toward some destiny. Often this was the way our own life would reveal itself over time. An aspect of the progress of our life might be a pilgrimage to a "holy" site. In her story "The Lives of Stangers" Divakaruni relates the experiences of two women who make such a journey to a sacred place in Kashmir. In her tale "The Blooming Season for Cacti" she tells of both the geographic movement and the internal shift of a heroine who discovers her unknown self.
Many of us have experienced attempts by relatives to "arrange marriages" whether we know it or not by introducing us to someone "nice". And many of us have had the reaction of the young woman in "The Unknown Errors of Our Lives" who discovers the unknown errors are the ones you commit unknowingly over and over. Many women opt to make their own choices like one of the characters in "The Names of the Stars in Bengali." I personally have two female Indian friends who married blonde, blue-eyed "American" guys.
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