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One Amazing Thing Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 2, 2010
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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.)
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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
Top customer reviews
My biggest complaint about the book was that it was not presented in a believable manner. Yes, everyone was trapped in a building due to an earthquake. However,rather than obsessing about getting out, the characters were primarily concerned with telling and listening to stories. In a situation of life and death, the primary focus, I'm sure would be escaping. Period. There just didn't seem to be enough fear and focus on getting out. The surrender to the situation came way too easily for all involved, who unrealistically revealed the most intimate details of their lives in order to pass the time. Their willingness to share at such an early juncture in the disaster was not persuasively written. At all. In all likelihood, only if the characters were exuding the fear of being at death's door--- and desperate to escape the immense mental anguish that would result in being trapped way too long--- would they possibly be compelled to reveal such intimate disclosures.
Also, the motivations of the characters were not strong enough. For example, Malathai sabotaged her desperately needed job in order to ruin the hair of a mean customer who genuinely liked her in order to avenge a so-so wrong on someone she barely knew. Another example: Bored, pampered Mrs. Pritchett attempts suicide after projecting an extraordinarily loving relationship on a senior citizen couple that she momentarily observes. That observation awakens in her a feeling that her loyal, hard working husband never loved her like she needed, even though she lived a pleasant life of luxury for many years with him.
Overall, this book was a fast and easy read. It wasn't utterly captivating, but it moved along at a brisk enough pace and didn't take long to finish. It did not particularly educate, but it did entertain. I'd be willing to read other books by the author as she describes the culture of India well.
I would recommend this book to people who are interested in cultural diversity. It is a story that might interest young teens to adults.