by Chitra Banarjee Divakaruni
I do most of my reading on my commute to and from work and because I work in a bookstore there are rules about bringing in books and other items that we sell. If you bring in something you own that is also an item that we sell, someone on the management team has to put a sticker on it to show that it is your personal property. So, to escape that hassle, I tend to read advance reader’s copies (ARCs) that don’t have bar codes and aren’t for resale and therefore don’t need to be stickered. Recently I needed to find a book fast to take on the train with me and I found an ARC that I got about a year ago and never picked up. That’s how I finally read One Amazing Thing.
Having loved The Mistress of Spices, her first novel (and one that I picked up solely because the cover was beautiful), I knew I would not be disappointed. One Amazing Thing takes place in an Indian passport and visa office in the basement of a building in an unnamed American city (but I’m assuming its San Francisco). The people in the waiting room are from several ethnic and racial backgrounds, age groups and income levels. When an earthquake hits and traps them in the office, the eclectic bunch have to learn to work together and put aside their differences and prejudices. To pass the time while they await rescue, they take turns telling a story from their lives – usually one that has helped to define them.
Because the novel has each character tell their own tale, it sometimes feels like a set of short stories and that makes it a quick read. Divakaruni is able to showcase the humanity of each person while keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering about their survival.