In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s new novel One Amazing Thing, a group of people from various backgrounds find themselves trapped in the Indian passport office following an earthquake in the United States. A Chinese grandmother and her teenage granddaughter, an older American couple, and the Indian office workers are just a few of the characters that we learn about in the present and in their storied past.
As a way to take their minds off of their situation, those trapped share a story. Each of the stories helped to tell a little more about the person, and in many cases what brought them to the passport office in the first place. So this book is more a collection of short stories wrapped around the greater story of the earthquake.
Some of the stories were so wonderful that I could read a whole novel based on that individual story. One of my favorites was the story from the office worker Malathi. Growing up in India, at the appropriate age Malathi was taken to the beauty parlor to have a variety of treatments and photos taken to increase her chances for a good marriage. Thanks to the beauty parlor Malathi did fall in love — with the beauty parlor. Instead of marriage, she gets a job at the salon. Her story is her time at the parlor and the circumstances that brought her to the U.S.
This is of course just one of the many stories — stories that are sad, inspiring, funny. I think I actually liked the short stories better than the overarching story of the earthquake. Even though the earthquake and the events that happened in the office as those trapped had to deal with the earthquake certainly created tension and kept me turning the page to find out what was going to happen, I preferred the more personal and intimate look at the characters that was depicted in their personal stories.