One Amazing Thing
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.”