Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

"The Unknown Errors of Our Lives,"

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

While some of my favorite books are "The Palace of Illusions" and "Arranged Marriage," by Divakaruni, I had not read "The Unknown Errors of Our Lives" until only recently. It is a collection of short stories about Indians, some living in the San Francisco Bay Area, some in India. Sometimes a short story is just what I'm looking for, something quick to read, entertaining, a glimpse of a vision, and a story that leaves the rest for the reader to imagine. Often, a well-written short story collection is a great conversation starter in a book club. Sure, you cannot discuss a complex story, but sometimes the intriguing quality of the piece, and its somewhat limited scope, is better than some mediocre full length novels.

I have always enjoyed Divakaruni's writing because she speaks in a very beautiful, elegant voice, describes the experiences from a deep perspective, and writes as if having first-hand knowledge. I especially enjoyed "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter," where the complex, heartbreaking feelings of a mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and son's family dynamics are explored. The emotions of a mother, as she becomes a member of his immediate family, and lives in his home are very believable. The characteristics of the new immigrant, as she tries to navigate life in the Bay Area and fit in with her son's family, are so often felt by many friends' relatives I have met in the Bay Area. The descriptions of the grandchildren, and the son's wife's disconnect with their newest family member, whether generational or cultural or emotional, will hit a nerve in those that live in an extended family. An extended family is the norm in Indian culture, and often the subject of extraordinary, sensational TV serials, but this story puts the complexities in a realistic, touching short story.

In "The Intelligence of Wild Things," Divakaruni writes about the changing relationships of once close family members, who are separated by distance due to marriage, political unrest, and college studies. A sister in California, a younger brother in Vermont, and an ailing mother in India, are the subject of a family living with questions and losing their once close bond. Everyone can identify with how lives changes among siblings after one gets married, has children, or a career, and start getting caught up in day-to-day responsibilities. The story shows how easy it is to avoid talking about difficult subjects when you have such little face-to-face time with family.

"The Love of a Good Man," spoke about forgiveness, and left much of the why's and what's for the reader to figure out, but I enjoyed it anyway. "What the Body Knows," was a touching story of a woman and her post-partum health illness.

All of the stories explore the characters' choices that might be considered an 'error' if they could see the consequences of that choice. It is only human to make these 'unknown errors' and who among us is free of making mistakes? The emotional journey of each character, in the brief slice of life portrayed in the short story, is heartfelt, very moving, and evokes a multitude of feelings in the reader. This was another great book by Divakaruni. I look forward to another book by this author, I hope one is in the works!

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  1. My favorite is Palace of Illusions.

  2. Yes, Palace of Illusions was the kind of book you could read again and still enjoy it as much as the first time.


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