Here’s another novel with multiple characters and story lines — but these characters are all in the same room. Waiting to get visas at the Indian Consulate in a city that’s never named (but that sounds a lot like San Francisco), nine very different people are thrown together when an earthquake strikes, trapping them in a basement with a collapsing ceiling, one temporarily functioning restroom, no electricity, and very little food. And, to add to the suspense, the room is beginning to flood. But this is no mere survival yarn. The story revolves around the characters’ various secrets from the world, from each other, and sometimes from themselves. Whether they make it out of the basement alive — the book ends with that question unanswered — is less the issue than how they reveal themselves to each other. Here’s how the story begins:
When the first rumble came, no one in the Visa Office, down in the basement of the Indian Consulate, thought anything of it. Immersed in regret or hope or trepidation (as is usual for persons planning a major journey), they took it to be a passing cable-car. Or perhaps the repair crew who had draped the pavement outside with neon-orange netting, making entry into the building a feat that required significant gymnastic skill, had resumed drilling. Uma Sinha watched a flake of plaster float from the ceiling in a lazy dance until it disappeared into the implausibly green foliage of the plant that stood at attention in the corner. She watched, but she didn’t really see it, for she was mulling over a question that had troubled her for the last several weeks: Did her boyfriend Ramon love her more than she loved him, and (should her suspicion that he did so prove correct) was that a good thing?
In the wrong hands, this could be melodramatic and silly. But for me, the characters rang true, and I was caught up enough to read the last two thirds of the book in one sitting, nursing the dregs of a latte I’d finished an hour before. I was taken enough with Divakaruni’s storytelling that I’ll seek out her earlier books, too.
author photo: Mahesh Bhat