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One Amazing Thing

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An acclaimed novel by the author of The Mistress of Spices, and Before We Visit the Goddess. Jhumpa Lahiri praises: "One Amazing Thing collapses the walls dividing characters and cultures; what endures is a chorus of voices in one single room."

Late afternoon sun sneaks through the windows of a passport and visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers and even most office workers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper-class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.

When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine characters together, their focus first jolts to their collective struggle to survive. There's little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, "one amazing thing" from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. From Chitra Divakaruni, author of such finely wrought, bestselling novels as Sister of My Heart, The Palace of Illusions, and The Mistress of Spices, comes her most compelling and transporting story to date. One Amazing Thing is a passionate creation about survival -- and about the reasons to survive.

220 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

60 books5,186 followers
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. 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 is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her works have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. Divakaruni also writes for children and young adults.Her novels One Amazing Thing, Oleander Girl, Sister of My Heart and Palace of Illusions are currently in the process of being made into movies. http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/books.... Her newest 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.") Simon & Schuster.

She was born in India and lived there until 1976, at which point she left Calcutta and came to the United States. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall. She briefly lived in Illinois and Ohio, but has spent much of her life in Northern California, which she often writes about. She now lives in Texas, which has found its way into her upcoming book, Before We Visit the Goddess.

Chitra 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. Both these are organizations that help South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence 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.

Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies by filmmakers Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges (an English film) and Suhasini Mani Ratnam (a Tamil TV serial) respectively. Her novels One Amazing Thing and Palace of Illusions have currently been optioned for movies. Her book Arranged Marriage has been made into a play and performed in the U.S. and (upcoming, May) in Canada. River of Light, an opera about an Indian woman in a bi-cultural marriage, for which she wrote the libretto, has been performed in Texas and California.

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

Chitra loves to connect with readers on her Facebook author page, www.facebook.com/chitradivakaruni, and on Twitter, @cdivakaruni.
For more information about her books, please visit http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/, where you can also sign up for her newsletter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,378 reviews
Profile Image for Tina Haigler.
293 reviews99 followers
November 3, 2020
"When the first rumble came, no one in the visa office, down in the basement of the Indian consulate, thought anything of it."

I have to say, this was a little underwhelming to me. What I expected was several awe-filled stories. That is not what this book contained. A few were decently sad. One was pretty funny. One I can't even remember, and another was just kind of there. I didn't think any of them were amazing. There was also one that the author didn't even bother to finish in an effort to leave the ending open. I am never a fan of that. I feel like it's a lazy cop out, and unfaithful to the story. It's an author's job to tell the tale as it is - they literally get paid for this - not to leave it dangling at the end for the reader to pick up the pieces. If I wanted to do that, I would write my own stories, instead of reading them. Of course I'd be rubbish at it, but that's beside the point.

I found the strangers-trapped-in-a-building-during-an-earthquake premise much more interesting. There were some really good parts when we were in the action of it. I do understand what the author was trying achieve, weaving the stories in amidst the drama, but ultimately it just fell flat. As far as characters go, I didn't really care about them. There was one character I truly loved, one character I was fond of, two that I felt nothing for, and the rest I disliked, or downright despised. Also, I was hoping to learn more about Indian culture, but I didn't really pick up more than one or two things I didn't already know.

Ultimately, I guess I'm disappointed because this had so much unrealized potential, but it did have it's moments, and a character that I will look back on fondly. Plus it is a decently short book, so it's not like I wasted a bunch of time on it, or had to drudge through. Would I read it again? No. Do I regret reading it? Not necessarily. Would I recommend it? Probably not, but you never know. Maybe if the circumstances were just right.

"As they waited to see what would happen next, Uma began the end of her story."
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews489 followers
January 30, 2011
this is a delicate, almost fragile book, and it won't stay with you the way other books do. it will disintegrate in your memory and all you'll remember is that a bunch of people got stuck in a basement during a california earthquake and, in order to survive, swapped stories. the stories started off sluggish (who wants to tell stories?) but became terribly urgent as the day and night wore on. this is all you'll remember. you won't remember the stories.

the stories are not remarkable. they are not meant to be remembered. these stories are the stuff of precarious survival and mean much more to the speaker than to the listener. the speaker pours her or his heart in the story because the story is what is holding the speaker together -- never-before-spoken grief, loss, disappointment, regret, a moment of victory, a moment of enlightenment. the story in itself is like an frozen cobweb: it's not meant to endure touch. but in the mind of the speaker the story is as strong as the beams and the rods that kept the collapsed building together and are still preventing it from pancaking on this motley crew.

after each story there is almost no commentary. the story is not meant to be held by the memory of another, only by the memory of the speaker and the evanescent soul of the listening group. this is all the group is meant to do: listen. and the group does.

the stories keep the building from giving.

it is an extra bonus that divakaruni puts such racially, ethically, and religiously disparate people in this group. it is the only less-than-fragile aspect of the book. their difference plays a meaningful role, of course, but only up to a point. the essence of the book is the value of survival -- not only following the earthquake, but especially in the time leading to it.

this fantastic author has been telling fragile stories for a while, but the stories in this book of stories are special. a husband and wife each tell their story. the stories may be devastating but neither spouse changes as a consequence of hearing them. there are no meaningful gestures, ruptures, reconciliations. the stories live in silence. the audience's silence allows the existence of the stories.

we don't often tell stories. i wonder if the chilean miners told each other stories. i like to think they did. i suspect it might be hard to survive so long in a hole underground without telling stories.

it's not that we don't have stories to tell; it's that stories thrive in attentive, uninterrupted, unjudgmental silence. stories ask that advice be withheld. stories don't ask for much. stories ask for absence rather than presence, and we are a fast, active, productive culture. we fill holes. absence makes us nervous.

i wish we were more adept at silence. maybe we can learn.
Profile Image for Shalyn.
175 reviews6 followers
August 22, 2010
This is another book introduced to me through my book club. In short, nine people trapped in a crumbling building after an earthquake share stories about themselves to pass the time and distract themselves from the desperateness of their situation. In considering it, we read the synopsis and I remember thinking, "so is this supposed to be a kind of modern remake of The Canterbury Tales?" Then, sure enough, the character of the book that suggests the story-telling does so because she is a fan of Chaucer's work. I was only a tiny bit disappointed by this predictable turn but continued reading.

The transition from the story of the earthquake that binds these characters together to the individual's stories seems forced, but the tales of the characters are mostly interesting. It bugged me that the point of story-telling was for each character to tell about "one amazing thing," and yet for the most part, the stories are not of anything particularly amazing or unique. The stories are just everyday life, but perhaps the author is trying to make a point in so doing and it just escaped me. The first story is like a mini wartime movie, the next was more like a tv movie, the next perhaps an episode of a tv show, the next an afterschool special, etc. Even the last story, which actually uses the title phrase "one amazing thing," was a rather ordinary, familiar story.

I got the feeling this book was kind of experimental, like maybe it was a first novel. I discovered later that the author is more known for her short stories, and that makes sense since the book read like a set of short stories strung together by the framework of the earthquake story (although apparently this is not her first novel). Some of the stories would benefit from some additional character and plot development. The work is dotted with metaphors and similies that lack flow, as if an editor said, "this passage could use a little more imagery," and a brief phrase describing something else was the easy way out of the criticism. Also, the author has a tendancy to throw in a $10 word from time to time, even though an everyday word would work just as well if not better in those instances -- I'm not sure why authors do that.

Rereading this review, even I get the feeling that I didn't like this book, but that's not true. I did enjoy these characters and their stories. I did enjoyed the stories of the characters and see a lot of promise in the author's work. I just think this particular work was perhaps published too soon, before it was fully developed.
Profile Image for Mohamed Al.
Author 2 books4,818 followers
November 23, 2014

بادئ ذي بدء يجب أن أنوه بأن تقييمي هنا للعمل الأصلي لا للنسخة المترجمة والرديئة التي أصدرتها دار دال مؤخرًا!

وأنوه كذلك إلى أن مشكلتي ليست مع دار دال أو غيرها ولكنها تكمن مع الضمائر الفاسدة !

إلى الحادثة ..

اقتنيت هذه الرواية من دار "دال" للنشر والتوزيع أثناء مشاركتها في معرض الشارقة الدولي للكتاب. كنت قد سمعت عن هذه الكاتبة ذات الأصول الهندية كثيرًا لذلك لم أتردد كثيرًا في شرائها لحسن حظي وسوء حظ الناشر!

مرّت أيامٌ قليلة بعد انقضاء المعرض ، عندما قررت أن أبدأ بقراءة هذه الرواية. أول ما شد انتباهي هو عدم وجود رمز الترقيم الدولي الذي لا تخلو منه الروايات المترجمة عن لغات أخرى عادة، ولكنني أحسنت الظن بالناشر وعزوت الأمر إلى خطأ طباعي/مطبعي!

قلّبت الصفحات الأولى وشرعتُ بالقراءة فورًا، ومع كلّ صفحة أكتشف أن المترجمة غادة خوري (وهي الأخرى روائية) لا علاقة لها بالترجمة، فقد تحول النص الذي اكتظ بالعبارات المترجمة ترجمة ركيكة، والأخطاء الإملائية من رواية حازت كاتبتها العديد من الجوائز إلى رواية من الدرجة السياحية!

وكلما تعثرت بعبارة لم تحسن المترجمة نقلها إلى العربية أصرخ داخليّاً :
" اللعنة عليكم .. تبّاً لكم .. سفيه .. هيّن "!

أنهيت الرواية في يومين وسرعان ما اشتعلت فيّ الرغبة للتواصل مع الروائية صاحبة العمل الأصلي لأشكو لها سوء الترجمة. كتبت اسمها في "قوقل" ولحسن الحظ وجدت نفسي بعد أول نتيجة بحث أتجول في موقعها الشخصي، ومنه حصلت على البريد الإلكتروني لوكيلها الأدبي، فأرسلت رسالة مقتضبة أشرح فيها تجربتي السيئة مع الكتاب!

لم يمر يوم حتى تلقيت ردًا من الوكيل الأدبي للروائية يشكرني فيه على رسالتي ويطلب مني تفاصيل أكثر عن الدار ومعلومات الاتصال بأصحابها بهدف ملاحقتهم قضائيًا، فالروائية وناشرها لم يمنحا أي حقوق لدار "دال" أو لأي دار عربية أخرى بعد!

بمعنى آخر .. قام أصحاب الدار بالسطو على حقوق المؤلفة بكل وقاحة، ولم تمنعهم وقاحتهم من وضع تحذير في مقدمة نسختهم المسروقة يحذر من اقتباس أو نشر جزء من العمل دون إذن خطي منهم!

حينها أدركت أنّ الوقت حان لأفضحهم على رؤوس الأشهاد!

نأتي الآن للقصة وهي بحق قصة جميلة استطاعت الكاتبة أن تجذبني منذ بدايتها وحتى النهاية.

٩ أشخاص من أصول هندية (ولكن من طبقات وأعراق وأديان مختلفة) يعلقون في مبنى القنصلية الهندية في كالفورنيا بعد هزة أرضية، ولتمرير الوقت، وربما لمنع التفكير بالموت، يتناوب هؤلاء الأشخاص على سرد أغرب حكاية في حياتهم!

كل شخص لديه قصة مدهشة، و"المدهش" ليست دائما كلمة إيجابية، لكنها تصف شيئا قد يكون غير حياة هذا الشخص، أو في أحسن الأحوال مسار حياته!

بعض القصص مفجعة وبعضها مسلية، ولكنها جميعها تمكن القارئ من رسم الملامح العامة لهذه الشخصيات. والأهم أن الكاتبة استطاعت من خلال قصص شخصياتها أن تمرّر أفكارها عن المجتمع الهندي وآراءها حول عاداته وتقاليده .. إلخ

في بداية الرواية سيتلبس القارئ الفضول لمعرفة كيف سينجو هؤلاء الأشخاص من الكارثة، ولكن بمرور الوقت والقراءة، لن يكترث كثيرا -أو حتى قليلاً- إن ماتوا أو نجوا (هم بأنفسهم يبدون وكأنهم قد تقبلوا فكرة الموت أخيرًا)، كل ما سيهم القارئ بعد أن يبدأ الشخص الأول بسرد حكايته هو ألا تموت بقية الشخصيات قبل أن تتمكن من سرد أغرب حكاية في حياتها!

Profile Image for Connie G.
1,687 reviews451 followers
September 15, 2021
Nine people were in the basement-level visa office in the Indian Consulate while the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly. When an earthquake hit San Francisco, concrete rained down, obstructing the exit out, and leaving them in the dark. Water from leaking pipes slowly seeped into the room. Tempers were running hot and nervous.

Uma, a graduate student, had been reading The Canterbury Tales when the quake hit. She suggested that they focus their minds by each telling a story. She said, "I don't believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing."

The trapped people shared their lives with the strangers in the room. There are stories about unhappy childhoods, love, special talents, attempted suicide, post-traumatic stress, and more. The stories are engaging, and let us see each person as an individual. It was a little disappointing that the book was open-ended, and we could only imagine the fate of the trapped group in the Consulate. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Connie Cox.
286 reviews181 followers
January 7, 2015
Thanks to my book club for introducing this author to me. She is apparently known for her short stories, and this novel reads like a collection, and it is. The characters trapped together after an earthquake share their stories, share the one amazing thing in their lives.

The surprise to me is that for the most part the stories were not uplifting, nor amazing. They were stories of what was important to the storyteller, they were stories that were spoken aloud for the benefit of the teller, not the listeners. As this small group comes to realize they may never be rescued, they become almost desperate to tell their stories, to reveal themselves. Almost like a confessional. The stories show us that these people are vulnerable, they have suffered loss, regret, they have loved and they have hurt. In sharing themselves they perhaps accept themselves and each other a bit better. An angry young man perhaps said it best:

"...having put my story up against others I can see this much: everyone suffers in different ways. Now I don,t feel so alone."

I thought a lot about this book as I sat with my husband as we began the journey into the world of chemo treatments. I looked around at all these very different people, listened to small snippets of conversation, shared with the nurses and kept thinking to myself....everyone has a story to tell....everyone has that "one amazing thing"....some of us have more than one. The trick might be to be able to recognize them, and knowing what story to tell.

Beautifully written, haunting and sad. 4.5 stars to 5 as it seemed to speak to me.
Profile Image for Britany.
964 reviews417 followers
March 22, 2014
One Amazing Thing shares with us how 9 strangers stuck in an earthquake riddled building that is slowly collapsing all around them, that there is hope, and comfort in stories. Each person shares "One Amazing Thing" from their lives.

Some of the stories were heartbreaking, all carried themes of guilt, sorrow, and acceptance. I wanted more from the stories. Instead, they all ended abruptly leavinig me wanting more depth from these characters. These stories could've been much more powerful to the reader and the premise of this book was original and exciting. The stories, the "meat" of the book left me unfulfilled.

Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,489 reviews9 followers
February 22, 2015
Nine very diverse people, trapped in an office following an earthquake, decide to pass the time by recounting a special time in their lives. The stories are told one by one, not much is memorable about most of them, not much is amazing really, just the fact that each storyteller took away something of value from those times. Just everyday life. Interesting how the stories seemed to help in their collective struggle to get free from the collapsed building.
I expected to be more amazed. I do like this author though. A solid 3-stars.
Profile Image for Denise.
1,983 reviews84 followers
June 9, 2010
Mildly absorbing but incomplete, thus unsatisfying..., March 27, 2010

This review is from: One Amazing Thing (Hardcover)
After I finished the book I went back to the beginning again just to clarify how it all began. Found a second read of it more interesting. BUT, I hated the ending. It's what a consider a NON ending and thus leaves me as a reader very frustrated. I don't like reading books that make me have to try to guess what happened. If I wanted to write a story, I would. I expect the author to finish her job and to give me some type of ending. Because of the way the book ended, it left a more negative impression with me than I probably would have had if she had just said what happened to the people. Even an epilogue or afterward indicating something of their outcome would have helped. I think that would be my main question to the author -- what happened? Did they all die? I tend to think they did.
I would hesitate to recommend the book to many of my friends because of the lack of closure experienced and I know how they like to know "what happened" when they read books. I did share this book with my two daughters and all of us agreed about that. We said, "The ending sucked."
Something I thought was missing in this book was the rest of the survivor's reactions to the stories they were hearing. Knowing that they all were in dire straits would have made each story all the more important as each person chose exactly what small part of his/her life he or she would share with the group. I also think it would be unusual not to get questions and I also think the person telling the story might want to give answers. Funny how telling a story out loud might lead to self reflection and assessment and perhaps revelations to be experienced and shared.
I might or might not read another book by this author, but I'd wait to see if she did the no ending thing again.

Now, as far as telling private personal stories of this nature to a group of strangers -- well it depends on the circumstances. I suppose if I thought I was going to die it would be nice to reflect and share my "amazing thing" stories but I am not sure if I would, in the end, keep them to myself or not. It is often easier to tell things to total strangers than to friends or relatives. It's the judgment thing. I did not find the stories the captives told all that interesting, frankly.

Borrow, don't buy.
Profile Image for Ahtims.
1,467 reviews125 followers
April 22, 2018
a short book, which I read in a day's time. I liked the initial half, but the second half was a bit drab. The theme revolves around 9 persons from different backgrounds and cultures stranded in the Indian Visa Office room after a massive earth quake which has managed to strand them in the room with collapsed structures all around. To while away the time and to keep from worrying, they start telling a personal story each, which gives us glimpses of their worlds. The concept is good, but somehow the latter pages failed to keep me engaged. Half-way through I was just interested to know whether they survive the earthquake, but lo --

the author has kept us hanging
Profile Image for Kieran Walsh.
132 reviews18 followers
April 17, 2011
I was a little disappointed with this one. I've always enjoyed the idea of strangers sharing stories and the context here was a good one (random customers/employees of Indian consulate trapped in the basement office building after an earthquake). What was, I had hoped, a Scheherazade type of story series really ended up being, with the exception of one or two, a hodge podge of uninteresting recount of situations (stories, certainly not). For fictional purposes I think ordinary lives could have afforded extraordinary lessons. Divakaruni could have explored the use of fables in this context but instead didn't delve much deeper than individual emotions/lost and forgotten love etc.
Its also dangerous territory when a wrtier tries to sway readers away from one story to another, when an original one is so captivating. I think, here, Divakaruni attempted to sloly progress more interest in the lives of the 9 storytellers so that by the end we wouldn't think of the tragedy around them (ie, the earthquake). However, as the book moved forward, I became less interested in the stories and more preoccupied with their survival, explaining why the end was just so weak.
Good ideas, interesting cross section of characters but none I could really like and certainly not enough fluidity to make the book add up at the end.
Profile Image for Barbara H.
691 reviews
April 21, 2011
I was impressed by the unusual and imaginative premise devised by Divakaruni almost immediately. The plot focuses on a group of unaquainted people who are trapped in a passport office following an earthquake. The author has expertly imparted the emotions and the actions of the nine characters involved.

In order to maintain a semblance of equilibrium and relieve stress among these survivors, it was suggested that each should relate a significant story in his/her life. Each narration was intriguing and offered a window into the person's character. It was fascinating to observe how with this self-expression each would gain better understanding of himself and actually initiate some behavioral changes. Divakaruni has vividly demonstrated how the power of these stories served to heal and change this frightened group.

I found this novel compelling and innovative until the final page. In fact, the last two pages beautifully completed this book- like a lovely icing on a cake! It would have been nice to give this author's work another .5 star!

Profile Image for Meegan McCorkle.
52 reviews
January 3, 2011
This book made me think of Amy Tan's novels, very compelling, gripping, individual stories. For a short book, I thought the characters were developed fairly thoroughly. But I can't help but feel cheated by the ending. Why the need to leave us hanging? I guess we're supposed to deduce the ending from "Uma began the end of her story." But why kill these characters? Bigger meaning? Every life has meaning, has "one amazing thing"? Up to the end, I would have recommended this highly. It's original, and compelling.

I thought some of the immediate post-earthquake reactions were well-done. Someone rebels and tries to escape, someone takes charge, some are catatonic, or crumble, and most others acquiesce to whoever steps up as a leader.

I do think it's interesting in our modern, advanced, comfortable world to think that in a snap, we can be plunged back to life or death existence, with all comfort stripped away. Hunger, cold, heat, all the basic survival conditions we rarely think about can become front and center if nature intervenes.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
January 4, 2015
I really liked this book. It is the story of nine people trapped in an office after an earthquake. It is the Indian consul and for various reasons they all have a connection to India. As they are trapped, the water is rising, the roof is collapsing and various other problems keep occurring.

As they wait for a rescue that may never come, they each tell a story from their past. It's called one amazing thing but the stories, by themselves, are not amazing. They are moments that change the course of their lives, for good or bad, and that's what makes them amazing. It made me think of what story I would tell and I decided on one but I won't bore anyone else. I'll just say that it was amazing to me.

The story ends ambiguously which is great. I read this book for my in-person book club and really appreciated it. It reminded me of The Canterbury Tales but updated. A quick read that is quite enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Avanthika.
145 reviews776 followers
December 29, 2015
Nine lives from nine different cultures with nine different stories are waiting for their VISA when the inevitable happens. Earthquake strikes to reduce their building into rubbles. Amidst the dampness in air, scarcity in food, depressing darkness and diminishing hope, they are opening up to share one amazing thing from their lives, one after the other.
Trust me, one amazing thing is one of the best book that I’ve read this year. None of the characters are unusual or super-man’ified.
They’re just humans and they’re themselves.
Felt as though the book has been left unfinished, for the end wasn’t so appealing. Happened to read the book at the most unexpected time of my life, when my city was flooded. Drawing strength from each other is the biggest lesson that I learnt this year. Chitra baneerjee strikes the cord perfectly yet again.
Profile Image for Elevate Difference.
379 reviews77 followers
February 5, 2010

One Amazing Thing is one amazing set of well-woven characters and stories. One scene, one event, one moment has drawn a complex set of diverse actors together in this novel, and Divakaruni does an excellent job of giving each character the perspective and depth that we need to not only listen to their voice, but to stand outside of them and see them as their companions on this journey do.

Set in a city-less visa office, a group of applicants waits for their turn to handle the bureaucracy required to visit India. They range in age, ethnicity, desire, patience and need, but all are headed to India for powerful reasons. Some are seekers, some are returning home, but each is second guessing one another as they impatiently wait for their own process to begin.

An earthquake seals them in the office together, and Divakaruni wonderfully foreshadows the entire novel through her initial character, Uma, who is reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Through a brief discussion of why Uma brought the tome with her to the office (yet never opens the book to read it; it merely marks her status and becomes a symbol to the others in her company), we are alerted to the similar fates of the sojourners in the visa office. Mirroring Chaucer’s work, Divakaruni asks her characters to tell one heart-wrenching story from their lives in order to sustain their livelihood as they wait together for whatever is to come next.

Part of the power of this story is readers themselves do not know what is coming next. Each character, painted and revealed by the others, delivers a tale that is refreshing and unexpected. The author writes her characters’ “one amazing thing” in such a way as to reveal secrets to both the company of characters and the reader at the same time. Divakaruni also holds the secret of the story by continuing to foreshadow the impending disaster woven within a crumbling building and a group in need of rescue and her finale puts the reader to work.

The one shortfall of the novel is in some of the characters’ tales. Though each tells a story that is unique and reveals much about who they are, some stories feel light, shortchanging the reader. It is unclear why some characters are given the space to pontificate the meaning in their tale while others are not and it creates a slight imbalance in the novel. No one character seems to outshine another—each is a hero and a coward within their own lives and within the situation—yet, some aren’t given the pleasure of extending the metaphors and meanings of their “one amazing thing.”

Review by Dr. Julie E. Ferris
Profile Image for Priya.
443 reviews
July 27, 2013
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni opens with Uma, a Medieval Lit student and someone I could instantly connect to, sitting in the lobby of the Indian Consulate Building, waiting to get her Visa done. It is dull and slow, the employees in no hurry to get things done on time, a typical Indian office maintaining its charm even in the middle of America. There are a number of people there, a Chinese woman and her granddaughter, an African American man, an old couple, the Indian staff and others. Everything is dull, that is, until an earthquake strikes and the group is trapped in the building, which soon becomes a suffocating cage and there's tension between the people. Then our heroine, the Literature buff with a copy of The Canterbury Tales in her bag has a predictably wonderful idea: telling each other stories to avoid panicking. Every story is the one life-altering experience each of them has ever had. The tales and the characterization are the essence of the book. From a love story set in Calcutta's Chinatown to an ex-soldier seeking redemption, the stories continue to thrill, touch and haunt you. Even as the building slowly starts to flood and crumble, you are sucked into the lives of the people and the panic and urgency is replaced by an odd hope.

It is the last story and the ending that will decide your view of the book: Being enraptured throughout by the people's stories, I thought the ending was perfect. A stroll through Goodreads made me realize that many were actually disappointed by it! Hence this warning: if you like the focus to be on the plot, if you don't like short stories, if you need concrete explanations and conclusions; you may not like the meandering prose.

The writing does become a bit too wordy at times. But the tales never lose their touch of mundane, regular, familiar. The book is simple and profound in its simplicity. The author manages to find magic in things that are ordinary, worldly. And she really makes you think: about your life, about the people in it and about that one amazing thing that you may have experienced. A beautiful book and definitely worth a read!
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,764 reviews333 followers
September 30, 2015

When an earthquake strikes, nine people are trapped in the basement of the Indian consulate: an upper-class Caucasian couple with a troubled marriage, a young Muslim-American man with a tendency to act rashly, a graduate student whose parents have returned to India, an African-American Vietnam veteran, a Chinese grandmother with a secret along with her punk-rock teenage granddaughter, and two visa office workers.

I was immediately caught up in the “present day” story of these nine people trapped in a basement. I liked the way that the author revealed their strengths and weaknesses as they acted / reacted to the situation. Who was selfish, or brave, or took charge, or retreated. But when Uma suggests that they pass the time by each telling “one amazing thing” from his/her life, the story arc lost some momentum, and it became more of a collection of short stories.

I don’t mind this too much, because I love short stories, and Divakaruni writes them well. However, this sort of hybrid between a short story collection and a novel seemed a little awkward. I was enthralled and interested in both the story of nine people trapped by the earthquake, and in the characters back stories. What each chose to reveal to these strangers, while fearing they would die together, told much about them as individuals. I have to admit it made me wonder what episode of my life I would tell in such circumstances.

One final note: the city in the book is unnamed, but apparently San Francisco. There are references to cable cars and being “by the bay.” Additionally, there IS an Indian consulate (where one would go for a visa) in San Francisco. And, of course, it is a city with a history of earthquakes.
Profile Image for Anna.
902 reviews35 followers
June 24, 2017
This is another story that starts off with a great premise, but misses the mark in its execution. In this case the author uses Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as her inspiration.
Here, the action takes place in San Francisco at the Indian Consulate.. As the day wears on, there is a sudden earthquake with aftershocks and 9 people - seven visa applicants and 2 consular employees - realize that they are trapped. There is panic and some physical injuries. At first, each person is wrapped up in his individual situation and thoughts; but as time passes, one of the group remembers that she (Uma) has a copy of Chaucer and suggests an exercise to pass the time and ease tensions - that each person tells one amazing thing that has changed his/her life. As the stories unfold, we realize that the 2 consular employees have escaped their lives or fates in India - at least temporarily. On the other hand, the seven travelers have important personal reasons to visit (pilgrimage) to India.
OK. It IS an interesting idea. My objection is that every time the narrative becomes compelling, it's dropped, not completed and not even discussed by the group.
I might have been expecting too much
Profile Image for April.
2,101 reviews950 followers
January 27, 2010
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a smattering of short stories within the context of a larger story. Basically an earth quake hits some town in California, so I think nine people are trapped in the Indian Consulate office. These people are all panicing and unhappy until Uma, a grad student who reads awesome books like The Canterbury Tales comes up with the idea to have all who are trapped share one amazing story from their lives.
Read the rest of my review here
Profile Image for Kate.
484 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2021
This book is different for Divakaruni, but still a very worthwhile read. After an earthquake in an unnamed American city, nine individuals are trapped in the Indian consulate office. One of them suggests they each share "one amazing thing" from their lives. This book is beautifully written, and though it is short, it is a very powerful and complex piece of writing. I loved the writing and how each of the characters had their own unique voice. I have loved every book I've read by this author, and this book was no exception.
Profile Image for Michael.
84 reviews16 followers
February 14, 2011
Nine strangers are in the Indian consulate's office of an American city to apply for visas for their trips to India when an earthquake strikes, leaving them all trapped together. The doorways are blocked, no escape is possible and amid rising water and increasing gas in the air, the sense of doom and panic among the survivors begins to increase. One of the strangers, Uma, an Indian-American woman, who coincidentally was reading The Canterbury Tales as the story opens, suggests that each of the nine tell the rest of the group one amazing thing from their lives. So begins One Amazing Thing.

This was an interesting premise but a very disappointing outcome. I found the stories the survivors share with each other to be stale, sometimes predictable and more often than not cliché ridden and, despite having such in-depth knowledge about each of these nine survivors, I felt like I really knew very little about them.

The author, Chitra Divakaruni, has a very large vocabulary and she isn't afraid to use it to excess which made reading some of the descriptive passages awkward at times. Also, the author writes the character's thoughts and rhetorical questions parenthetically which generally has the effect of taking me out of the story altogether. Done once or twice for effect I don't have a problem, but this technique is used repeatedly on nearly every page. Finally, the ambiguous ending left me feeling more than cheated.

I was attracted to this book by the blurb on the back and I really wanted to enjoy it, but I was very disappointed. The only thing I enjoyed about the book was the small amount of insight into Indian culture I received in the telling.

We learn in One Amazing Thing that we can't judge a book by its cover. After reading One Amazing Thing I learned that we probably shouldn't trust the advertising copy on the back of the cover.

Profile Image for Nadira.
130 reviews52 followers
July 20, 2016
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I give it 3.5 stars. The story follows nine very diverse people, who get trapped in an office following an earthquake. Desperate, hopeless times call for strange reactions in people. Everyone reacts differently. This group decide to narrate stories about that One Amazing Thing in their lives. Surprisingly, the stories are like an everyday story...none of them that amazing or uplifting to the listener but so important and momentous to the speaker. It was a very fast-paced book, extremely enthralling to the reader as u totally immerse yourself in their stories. You cannot help but visualize the surrounding, the dynamics as if its happening right in front of your eyes...like you are a companion in their journey. Some stories and characters will stay with you. Some wont. I, personally, would love to actually see for myself that One Amazing Thing in the last story! It was sooooo beautiful. A very pleasant and easy read. A collection of nine short stories woven into one book. The open ending leaves the reader guessing but I love such books where I can analyse it the way I want and also reach the conclusion I want. I just wish the book was more powerful and impactful, but it fell short on that one aspect.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
312 reviews155 followers
August 26, 2018
Would have been a five staarrer if not for the abstract ending.... Amazing read, very close to the situation at my place with flood ravaged homes and people in refugee camps.. Loved all the characters and their rawness..
... An earthquake leaves an unlikely mix of people isolated in a visa office.. To while away the time and to stop the stress from getting them into each other's throats...they each start telling a story one weaved from a time in their life.. A unique plot and brilliant writing.. Will read more of the author....Each of her books is a winner though Mistress of Spices did not quite meet my expectations...
Profile Image for Wallace.
144 reviews114 followers
February 16, 2010
The latest book sent to me from Hyperion/ Voice is called One Amazing Thing. I read half of the book today in just a little over an hour. At first, it was a bit hard to digest considering it is about a large earthquake that traps a motley crew of people in a basement of a visa office. In light of what is going on in the real world, this was not what I wanted to read. However, I became hooked. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a talented writer, who's work (and this particular book) is touted by such impressive writers as Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) and Junot Diaz (The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao)

The crux of the plot, where Uma, the original narrator, has suggested that they pass the time and lift their hopes by telling each other a story about one amazing thing that has happened in their lives. These stories are what makes the book fly by.

You can tell a writer is worth her weight in words if you have to remind yourself that you are not part of the story. I had to look up from this book every now and again and remind myself to breathe... I was not trapped with the characters trying to conserve oxygen. But lest you think this book is only a stressful and sad version of an earthquake disaster, I need to tell you that part of the reason I was holding my breath was because I was listening to the stories. As each story started I would hesitate, thinking that this next story is probably going to be boring (don't ask me why I thought this, there was no truth to it or past experience to build on) and then before I knew it the story was over and while I was wanting to know more I was preparing myself for the next story to be boring. But it never was. In fact, each story was so transfixing that the very last page snuck up on me and then shocked me with it's appearance.

I have no idea if there will be a sequel, but I do warn you that this book finishes without us getting a tidily wrapped up ending. At first I was dismayed, but then I started to realize that the book really wasn't about the earthquake, or what happened to the characters in the unwritten pages. Because inevitably they will all die, just as all people do (sorry to be morbid here), and it doesn't fully matter when that happened for them. What matters is that they all (we all) have a story to share. And each of us wants to be heard and to have our story told while we still have the chance.

Maybe what this book is really about is reminding yourself to not only articulate your story, but also hear the stories of those around you while you still can.
Profile Image for Matthew Kozak.
Author 2 books6 followers
February 27, 2018
I really enjoyed this novel. It is a character study, and I am the type who will go on almost any journey if I like the company enough (characters of books in this case).

The writing was eloquent, and the descriptions and imagery (of many items in the story - BUT - especially of the salon shop and of Indian cuisine that made me want to visit that country in particular) were puncturing.

I had not read anything by Chitra Divakaruni before, but I look forward to reading more of her work if given the opportunity. Her ability to get into characters and tell life from their "Dorothy shoes" was very well done in my opinion - especially given the diversity of each character.

I love stories where characters connect, and people and things aren't always what they seem. We have the "black" and "white" of life; in terms of morality and philosophy - and they are important - because it is the "black and white" of life that allows for the grey. And the grey of life is where we live (as has been said before by many people way smarter than this reviewer).

In addition to rich characters, unexpected turns in their stories, and a strong arsenal of vivid vocabulary and imagery, there were just some flat out GORGEOUS lines in this book that I hope to carry with me, in whatever internal reservoir I have. I will share a few of my favorite:

"But love slips in like a chisel - and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside (p.90)."

"If Naina was a flashing disco light, Latika was the moon in a misty sky (p.166)."

"How foolish humans were to travel the world in search of history. Under my shoulder blades and over my head were the oldest histories of all: earth and sky (p. 216)."

Lines like that of romanticism, rawness, and realism really brought me chills.

Thank you for this book, and these stories, and most importantly for me - these lines of art - which refresh and nourish, and grow the soul.

Thank you :)
Profile Image for Martha☀.
685 reviews33 followers
January 9, 2016
When a significant earthquake hits California, nine people are trapped in the India consulate office. Hours go by; hunger sets in; tempers and anxieties are high; food is pooled; aftershocks occur. As each of them awaits the worst, Uma suggests that they each tell a story of One Amazing Thing that each has witnessed in his/her life. This minor distraction helps to pass the time and forms bonds between these unlikely characters. As each person tells their story, Divakaruni succeeds in capturing a unique voice. Each story reveals some suffering, sadness or trauma that the person has had to overcome.
The writing was descriptive and the transitions between character voices felt smooth, but none of the stories had any amazing elements so I felt let down by the title. I also felt that the ending was a
Profile Image for Monica.
920 reviews30 followers
January 17, 2014
This book is about the personal stories of nine people trapped in a basement in a visa office as they wait for either rescue or death. To keep themselves distracted from what has happened, they take turns telling one story about themselves that they feel is the most important to them at that time. And this leads to learning a little bit about each...yet enough to see what shapes their personalities. I like stories...this is why I read. And so this is a wonderful book that offers up one big story, the earthquake, wrapped up within nine shorter stories. These nine stories are much more powerful than an earthquake can ever be.

"But after I saw the couple in the café, a great dissatisfaction washed over me. I remembered the old man tilting his head attentively, listening to his wife making her menu choice. Her eyes had shone through her thick glasses as she watched him cut up their desserts for sharing. There was nothing like that tenderness in my life. And without it, what use were the things I’d built my days around? My garden, my home, my activities and friendships..."
Profile Image for ♞ Pat Gent.
230 reviews45 followers
March 10, 2016
This book reads like a collection of short stories tied together with an overlying setting. I think the whole of the book is about how our lives don't ever turn out like we plan and we end up making the best of whatever path we've chosen. Some of us are better equipped to be happy than others, some more resourceful, but each of us has at least "one amazing thing" that, when we look back over our lives, we can pick out and examine and say, "there. That was it..."

It's an easy read - I finished it in an afternoon - but it's thought provoking as well. Each character has qualities of stereotypical expectation, each has a side that is unexpected and surprising. Their stories tell more about who they were than who they are, and as I read this book, I felt like I was sitting in the room with them and began wondering, "which story would I tell..."

I think that was Divakaruni's plan.
Profile Image for Nadya.
404 reviews19 followers
December 10, 2016
Yang membuat saya terkesan pada buku ini adalah setiap karakternya yang memiliki jiwa seakan-akan mereka tokoh nyata. Kisah-kisahnya pun sangat ringan, tidak berbelit-belit, tanpa drama berarti namun sangat manusiawi. Pada setiap paparan demi paparan cerita, saya diajak menyelami sudut pandang setiap tokoh, dan akhirnya memahami apa yang membuat mereka menjadi diri mereka saat itu. Dan yang membuat buku ini semakin KEREN, Divakaruni berhasil menutup kisahnya dengan indah.

Ah, saya cinta penulis-penulis India ini…

4,5/5 bintang

review lengkapnya ada di pelahap-buku.blogspot.com dan di nanaissance.com

ayo berkunjung... *grin*
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