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Before We Visit the Goddess: A Novel Hardcover – April 19, 2016
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“Affecting.” (The New York Times)
“Emotionally accessible…[Divakaruni] balances the ache of separation with the thrills of independence and self-discovery…her characteristic passion, nerve and insight into the troubled soul are here in full.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“Divakaruni proves herself adept with all the tools in the writer’s toolbox…Divakaruni makes use of two major writerly tools that seldom go together — tragic drama, and screwball comedy. What’s more, she finds entirely fresh ways to mete out the tropes of the South Asian immigrant story…hilarity deepens and clarifies the story’s dark tones…an heirloom tapestry.” (The Miami Herald)
“Before We Visit the Goddess is full of different voices, going back and forth in time, with beautifully written chapters that could stand on their own as short stories but add layer upon layer of complication, wonder, humanity and empathy when joined together…Divakaruni builds her female characters as multidimensional — highly complex, intelligent and nobody’s doormat… Divakaruni guides us along their journeys with beautiful writing, surprising laughter and a truly memorable ending…I can’t recommend this book enough. When it comes to fiction, Divakaruni is a new goddess on the Texas landscape.” (The Austin American Statesman)
“Divakaruni elegantly leads the reader through the twists and turns of life given the complications of culture, family expectations, and words left unsaid…the writing was crisp and clear. The characters were realistic and the dialogue believable. The story explores the dynamics of mothers and daughters caught in the cross-hairs of cultural and generation differences, as well as the complications of expectations, believed or real…Before We Visit the Goddess will leave the reader wondering about the relationship they have with their parents and what should be said before it is too late.” (The Portland Book Review)
“A novel about female strength and ambition and how one mother’s decision can affect the lives of her family for generations to come.” (Bustle)
“Takes readers on an exotic, visceral journey beginning in the mango and saffron-scented kitchens of 1950s India and ending in present day Houston, Texas.” (The Santa Cruz Sentinel)
"The best storytellers always keep you coming back. They have their unique signatures, a unique voice, that enchants the reader and draws them back to listen to one story, then the next and then the one after that. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one such masterful story smith. I am done with reading Before We Visit The Goddess for now, but I keep thinking about the characters, and I know that a re-reading is in store for the future.”
“[Divakaruni is] one of my favorite recent discoveries. Before We Visit the Goddess is full of different voices, going back and forth in time, with beautifully written chapters that could stand on their own as short stories but add layer upon layer of complication, wonder, humanity and empathy when joined together.” (Austin 360)
"This book turned out to be the perfect palate cleanser…for the burgeoning bright glory of summer.The greatest strength of the book is Divakaruni’s three unapologetically complicated, fierce female protagonists.” (Hyphen Magazine)
About the Author
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of sixteen books, including Oleander Girl, The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Palace of Illusions, One Amazing Thing, and Before We Visit the Goddess. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times, and has won, among other prizes, an American Book Award. Born in India, she currently lives in Texas and is the McDavid professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
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Top Customer Reviews
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Before We Visit the Goddess
Simon & Schuster
Hardcover, 978-1-4767-9200-2 (also available as an ebook, audiobook, and on Audible), 224 pgs., $25.00
April 19, 2016
“What is more painful, the misplaced past or the runaway future?”
It’s 1995 and Sabitri, in questionable health, has retired to her ancestral village in India. Receiving a desperate late-night phone call from her estranged daughter, Bela, in Houston, Texas, Sabitri begins a letter to her granddaughter, Tara, who has decided to drop out of college—but Sabitri dies before the letter is mailed. Fast forward to 1998: Tara has dropped out of college and is working in a thrift store in Houston, aimless and disconnected from her Indian heritage and a community that might offer her support, estranged from her mother and father, never knowing her grandmother.
Before We Visit the Goddess, the seventeenth book by American Book Award winner Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is about dislocation: from family, country, and history; and the inevitable conflict resulting from each successive generation’s refusal, or inability, to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation. These women have more in common than they know.
The plot is simple and would almost be a comedy of errors if the results weren’t so frequently tragic. The narrative, told by multiple characters and varying points of view—sometimes third person, other times first—is challenging as the flow is constantly interrupted by time and space, jumping around between the past, beginning in 1963, and ending up in the future, 2020; and between India, California, and Texas. On the other hand, this technique neatly mirrors the feelings of dislocation experienced by the diverse, well-developed characters. All of the principals are complex human beings in their successes and failures, provided with rich backstories and motivations.
Divakaruni’s Houston is a joy in all of its multiples: racial, ethnic, cultural. She pokes a little fun at the “suburban funhouse” of street names in the surrounding bedroom communities: “Austin Colony, Austin Glen, Austin Crossing.”
Divakaruni is adept at the just-right simile: the child Bela wakes from a fever in the hospital where “her mother’s face looms large over the bed, alarming as an out-of-orbit moon”; and when a young man who has recently suffered a heartbreak is asked out by a new man his “chest felt like it was too small to contain all the things knocking around inside it. Heart, lungs, excitement, a surge of blood like sorrow. The backwash of memories.”
With its embossed dust jacket, Before We Visit the Goddess is a physically beautiful book in which Divakaruni writes passionately, although sometimes sentimentally, about loss, regret, and the importance of communication and forgiveness. Though the ending is rather abrupt, it is satisfying and hopeful. We fail each other, not necessarily from selfishness, but from obliviousness and with the best of intentions.
Originally published by Lone Star Literary Life.
Review by Dawn Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Fiction, Families, Mothers & Daughters
The story opens with a telephone call from Bela to her mother, Sabitri. Tara, Bela’s daughter, wants to drop out of college. Bela begs Sabitri to talk Tara out of it. Sabitri is in India and begins to write Tara a letter. What begins with a simple request for Tara to stay in school, turns into the story of her life.
From her letter, we see Sabitri as a girl and her desire to get an education. Sabitri has the opportunity to live with a wealthy family in order to go to school. She meets the son, Raj, and a relationship begins. When Raj’s mother finds out about them, she throws Sabitri out of the house. Shamed, she returns to the school and cries. Bijan, her math professor sees Sabitri and comforts her.
The story changes from Sabitri to Bela and we hear about her childhood. Bela seems to always cause controversy and I wonder if that is her desire. One of her actions causes a rift in the family from which it cannot recover. Bela writes a note for Sabitri and leaves India. Poor Sabitri is devastated, but she picks herself up and goes on. Bela’s life in America is not what she thought it would be. She wants money and position. Since her husband did not finish college, he cannot get a well-paying job. Bella takes a job working at a nursery/daycare which is a far cry from what she wanted from life.
The story then changes from Bela to her daughter Tara, who has never had happy home life. Her mother and father seem to fight a lot. As a young woman, she breaks off her relationship with her father. Tara believes he betrayed her mother but, in a way, they betrayed each other. She does not seem to have a stable life and moves from one relationship to another. Tara works in a second hand store and has taken to stealing things for the simple pleasure of doing it. She takes a second job as a caretaker for an old Indian woman. Although their time together was brief, it makes an impact on her life.
At another job, Tara must drive an older Indian man, Dr. Venkatachalapathi, to the airport to catch a flight back to India, but first he first wants to go to temple. Tara is not religious and does not know the temple’s location. They are late because she gets lost but Dr. V tells Tara it does not matter to the Goddess how many minutes you spend in front of her, only how much you want to be there. Tara follows him into the temple and asks if her clothes are appropriate. Dr. V tells her what you wear is not important, but what is in your heart. He explains that they must cleanse themselves before visiting the Goddess, and then uses the hose to wash her feet.
The book shows the different dynamics in a generational story. Each woman is unique and her story touches the soul. It was a pleasure to read about this family and I will miss not knowing what life will bring them. This is one of the few books I would read again.