Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Published: April 19th, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books, Read The Books You Buy, Smash Your Stack
I read The Mistress Of Spices back in high school and remember enjoying it, although back then I just devoured books without any thought to analyzing the plot, storyline, writing style, or any of that. I read for the sake of reading, and only as an adult have I made any effort to account for these factors when reading a book. Does it make it less fun to read? I don’t think so. Blogging sure is making me more vigilant about it, I now make notes for a book as I’m reading if I decided I’m going to talk about them here.
But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that I picked up this book because I remembered enjoying The Mistress Of Spices back in high school, and even remembered the movie adaptation starring Aishwarya Rai (I think it was an indie movie). I also picked it up because I’m a sucker for Indian authors now and I’m really trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t read a lot of books by Indian authors until a few years ago. Also, have you seen the cover of this book? It’s gorgeous.
Here’s the plot: This is a novel about three generations of women in a family, their individual hardships, and the struggles of their relationships with each other. Sabitri, the grandmother, grew up impoverished with a single mother attempting to make ends meet as the village sweet-maker. She desperately wants to go to college, but their current financial situation renders that dream impossible. A rich woman from Kolkata comes along and takes Sabitri into her household and sponsors her education, but this isn’t a happily ever after-Sabitri makes a single mistake that costs her all of it and she is banished from the woman’s house. The turn of events that ensue have a profound effect on her daughter Bela years later, who, unable to reconcile with her mother’s opinions about her life and against her wishes, flees to America with her political refugee lover for a fresh start in the free world. America, of course, is a cultural shock for her, and not at all the life she anticipated. It has an adverse effect on her marriage that is on the decline, and the lessons from that are what she attempts to impress on her daughter Tara. Tara, of course, has to deal with all of the turmoils that are a part and parcel of being a child of immigrant Indian parents in America, and her journey is about navigating those twists and turns on her path to discovering herself.
The book started out beautifully for me, but as it progressed it felt like the author had so many facets and aspects of each of the women’s lives that left me unfulfilled-just a lot of subplots that were thrown in but not adequately explored. The mini-storylines for each of the women that she went into detail on were really good and tied into the main plot, but others seemed to have been hastily thrown in there, scraps of information that just left me with more questions. I am not sure if that was the author’s intention of giving her characters more layers with these tidbits, but I feel like the characters had adequate depth without having those extra narrative voices. I was struggling to relate with Bela and Tara; it just wasn’t happening for me the way I’d related to Sabitri. Stories of familial discord, especially within Indian families, are not unfamiliar to me- I expected to relate to Tara the most but I didn’t at all. Again, it comes back to the fact that each of the characters was given all of those extra pieces that didn’t really service the main plot, or when thrown in there with too little information that was left unresolved when I finished the book. For example, there’s one chapter from the POV of Tara’s estranged father. It rushes through all of the pivotal moments from the previous chapters of Tara’s life. It didn’t leave me feeling any less bitter about him than I was earlier. Another example is Bela’s new friend’s complicated love life as a gay man. I mean, that was a beautiful friendship, but I was happy to focus on that friendship and Ken moving on from his boyfriend than having the ex come back or reading about how Ken is moving on, etc. Too many additions that left me with more questions than answers.
On the whole, there were parts that had me absolutely engrossed, and others that didn’t blow me away.This book just left me wanting a lot more and a lot less all at the same time. Not being able to connect with two out of three characters was a little frustrating. I like the author’s style of writing, and I like her ideas, so I will definitely pick up another book of hers in the future.