What if nine strangers were trapped by an earthquake in a random public office, such as an Indian consulate office somewhere in the USA? For anyone who wonders "What would I do if the Big One hit right now?" Divakaruni explores the lives and actions of the diverse people trapped. One survival strategy is telling stories. This character-driven novel is reminiscent of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.
It's easy to figure out where the Indian visa office is located from the hints throughout the story, the biggest one being the earthquake. I enjoyed Ms. Divakaruni's use of "The Cantebury Tales" to instigate the storytelling and to bind the book together. As one of the characters says, "I don't believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing." Each person's story reveals something about them to the others, yet no one judges the teller. Everyone has a vested interest (distraction) in hearing everyone else's story and the tension of their situation also makes the reader a bit anxious that he or she may not get to read them all:) Even though I'm usually a happy ending kind of reader, I was pleased with the state of limbo she left me in at the close.
Read for book club (9/2011). This book is a twist on "The Canterbury Tales" by Chaucer, the connection is made obvious because the character Uma (a college student) has brought a copy along with her to the Indian consulate. While bored in the waiting room there is an earthquake, and Uma suggests as a way to pass the time while waiting for rescue or death, they each share a story about their lives. For me, most of the stories were not terribly flushed out and seemed unfinished. The author apparently left them intentionally unfinished but, it did not feel like this was cleverly thought of; rather, it felt as if she ran out of ideas most of the time. It seemed as though she thought of each story individually as short stories but couldn't be bothered to fully develop them and so she placed people into neat little stereotypes (especially the young Muslim man, Tariq) and just didn't finish their tales because she ran out of ideas, not because she was clever. It was an O.K. read but it did not change the way I feel about anything nor do I think it will be remembered for generations to come. The novel is a nice quick read though so if you need something for a short train/bus/airplane trip it could fill the time pleasantly enough.
This was a great story. I have never read this author before, but will go back and read her other novels.
"Nine people of varying ages and backgrounds are trapped in an Indian consulate office after an earthquake in an unnamed American city. A sort of modern-day version of The Canterbury Tales, they take turns sharing stories of one amazing thing that happened in their lives. Delivered in beautiful prose and a nail-biting storyline is the provocative idea that people are not always who they seem to be."
Top 10 Books of 2010: Shannon McKenna Schmidt
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