- Fritzi Newton
Do you ever wonder how you might react under extreme duress? Would you rise to the occasion and become an example to those struggling around you or would you withdraw and cower in fear? In One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, nine everyday men and women are put to that exact test as their lives change over the course of one disastrous event.
In advance of a planned trip to India, the above-mentioned people—most solo, but several in pairs—have all chosen this day to go to the consulate in California to obtain a travel visa. As with many bureaucratic departments, the wait is interminable. Graduate student Uma is preparing to visit her parents who have recently moved back to India. In her irritation with the long delay, she ignores the first slight rumble. The second quake, however, rips apart what was only seconds earlier a solid building.
Almost immediately, Cameron, a substantial African-American man, takes command. To avoid further disintegration of a virtual minefield, he stresses proceeding with extreme caution. Tariq—a converted, but devout Muslim—foolishly insists on prying open a door and possibly endangering everyone. When Cameron intercedes to deter him, an infuriated Tariq turns on the larger man. As everyone’s fear escalates, the steady bickering and negative energy also increase proportionately.
Knowing that a cohesive group is necessary for survival, Uma requests that each person share a significant story about themselves. She is surprised when Jiang, who is with her granddaughter Lily, is the first to speak. Jiang tells of having been a no-nonsense Chinese businesswoman who, years earlier, dove headfirst into a forbidden romance with a handsome Indian gentleman. Unfortunately, the political climate in India doomed the relationship and Jiang’s father secures his numb daughter’s passage to the United States, along with a pre-arranged marriage. Only years later does Jiang realize that her plain, but steady husband is, indeed, her true love.
One by one, they will each relate an intimate and, often painful, narrative. By the last tale, nine people’s lives are forever entwined.