Book: Before We Visit the Goddess
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK
Genre: Fictional mother-daughter drama
In One Line: Through generations, the love of a mother towards her child continues to remain deep-rooted and steadfast.
Characterisation: The entire story is about characterisation. Be that the four women protagonist’s – Durga, Sabitri, Bela and Tara or even their husbands and friends. The tale is about each of these women and the entire plot revolves around who they are. This story is nothing but characterisation – right from small nuances to the bigger stories of their lives. But, somewhere I think the author got lost amidst the many names. Some who could have been developed more were never spoken about again. Like Mrs. Mehta and her camaraderie with Tara.
Language: The language is beautiful. Her usage of Indian words interspersed amidst the English fits in effortlessly. The dialogues are also believable.
Plot Setting: Usage of Bengali words creates Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is now known. Not only is the city created but also the essence of the city is created through the women around whom the story revolves. There’s a little bit of Kolkata in them even when the tale reaches Assam and even when it meanders into America. The American lifestyle, through Tara – right from her eyebrow ring to where she works – is also created well.
Book Cover Art: The story is about Bengali women and their lives in Kolkata and then in Texas. The title is ‘Before We Visit the Goddess’. Will someone then please explain to me why a girl who seems to be clad in what seems to me a Rajasthani dress is running over the hills during sunset? I racked my brains to find an explanation. The only thing that I came up with was that maybe the author trying to show that this is Bela in her red dancing dress? If it is so then unfortunately the picture doesn’t fit in with Bela’s persona – at all. The book cover art is disappointing.
How’s the Title: I liked the title because I like titles that are open to myriad interpretations. The author would have named the book such because of certain thoughts in her mind. I interpreted it as – the ‘Lord’ plays an important part twice in the story. Once when Bela, one of the female protagonist goes off for a temple visit with Bishu because of the plan that she was hatching and the second is when Tara’s life’s path crosses that of Dr. Venkatachalapathi and they visit the Meenakshi temple. There seem to be other ‘Goddesses’ in the tale too. Wasn’t Leelamoyi who gave Sabitri her ticket to Kolkata goddess like as far as Durga was concerned? Wasn’t Mrs. Mehta who brought affection into Tara’s life goddess like? As the say, ‘benevolence of the Lord’ is shown in Bipin Bihari’s compassion towards Sabitri and in Kenneth’s affection towards Bela also – they were there when the women needed to cling onto a belief.
Is The Blurb Catchy: Not really. You read the blurb and you know that you will be reading about the lives of some women. It wouldn’t really garner much interest. But if you are a mother with a daughter, like I am, then the phrase ‘explores the relationship between mothers and daughters’ might make you smile big enough to pick the book up from the shelf. Else it is the author’s name that will make the book sell – the blurb wouldn’t.
Learning From The Story: I was intrigued with the way the author not only goes back and forth with the years in the different chapters but she also combines the present with the bygone within each chapter as well. I’m sure there are other books that have done it in the past, but it was a new experience for me.
Areas Of Improvement: I don’t know whether it would be completely proper for me to say this, because ultimately I got the hang of it, but the to and fro of the years was a little distracting initially. Also portions were left disjoint till later in the book. And even when the puzzle pieces were revealed, it didn’t really make me sit up and say ‘wow’.
I found the pace of the story to be very slow. Plus, it seemed a little bit scattered and in chunks. The interweaving of the lives in a more intricate mesh would have made the tale a smoother one.
It wasn’t really a story with a plot. It was just about the lives of a few strangers. Why would anyone want to read a story if a basic hook is missing? Unless you have fallen for the author’s use of language and writing style.
What Is ‘Said By Not Saying’: No matter what the difference of opinion between the mother and her child, the latter will always run to the woman who kept her in her womb in times of crisis because she knows that’s the only human who will stand with her, and behind her, and to the front of her, until the storm passes.
My Reaction When I Finally Closed The Book:
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