Sunday, May 01, 2016
“Before We Visit The Goddess”
“Spent two beautiful days in Chico,” writes American Book Award winner Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni on her Facebook page, “speaking/teaching at the WordSpring Writers conference at Butte College. … Drove through Yuba City, one of the oldest Indian American settlements in America. … Ate the most amazing locally grown strawberries!”
The WordSpring creative writing conference, held a week ago, coincided with the publication date of Divakaruni’s new book, “Before We Visit The Goddess” ($25 in hardcover from Simon and Schuster; also for Amazon Kindle). Born in Kolkata, India, she received a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and now lives with her family in Houston, Texas. (There’s more at chitradivakaruni.com.)
Her new book is a series of intertwined stories of three generations of mothers and daughters. Sabitri makes something of herself in Kolkata, opening Durga Sweets, a shop named after her mother who had told her “go through life with your head held high.”
But family life is complicated, to say the least, and Sabitri’s daughter, Bela, turns her back on her mother and joins her boyfriend, who must escape India because of his politics, to marry him in the United States. Bela’s daughter, Tara, stung when her parents divorce, descends into drink and drugs.
The story begins in 1995 with Sabitri, now sixty-seven, writing to Tara, urging her to finish college. It ends, after many twists and turns in the chronology, in 2020, with Tara, about to take her mother to Sunny Hills and who, in cleaning her house, finds the photo albums. “The books are jumbled and in no chronological order.” The novel sorts its stories not by date but by theme.
“Do you want to know why I steal?” Tara asks her mother. “I take things that I should have had but didn’t get. … I steal them because there’s a big hole in the middle of my chest and stealing fills it up for a moment.” There are “big holes” everywhere in the lives of the three women, but family tragedy is tempered by the kindness of strangers and the true meaning of being a “fortunate lamp,” achieving something on one’s own.
Readers will savor the words, sweet and tart comingled.