Before We Visit the Goddess, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Before We Visit the GoddessThe very seventh post on this lovely blog was about a really super fantastic book that I liked a lot (though you wouldn’t guess it by the miniature posts I used to write) called The Palace of Illusions. I don’t remember how I found that book — I think I probably just saw it at the library and liked the cover — but it was really a perfect book at a perfect time.

So when I saw another book from the same author (who has written probably several other books in the interim), I was hoping lightning might strike twice. It didn’t, exactly, but I did get a lovely read out of the deal, so that’s all right.

Palace was a sweeping epic fairy tale story, but Goddess is a much more straightforward novel telling the stories primarily of a grandmother, mother, and daughter and various points in their lives and across two continents, from India to California to Texas.

The novel starts off like it’s going to have a frame story — the mother calls the grandmother begging her to convince the daughter not to drop out of college. The grandmother, after a few false starts, decides to tell the daughter the story of the grandmother’s youth, with an education in India delayed by illicit love and the vagaries of rich people. But this story ends quickly and sadly and the novel moves on to the stories of the mother, eloping to America with a sometimes wonderful husband, and the daughter, dealing with the fallout of leaving college as well as the weight of a couple of generations of guilt.

It’s not the most engrossing novel — I spent plenty of time away from the novel without feeling terribly bad about it — but it is, like Palace before it, beautifully written. It is full of emotions, but mostly sad ones, and it lays down depressing truths that earned my husband some very tight bear hugs while I was reading. I’m sure he didn’t mind.

I definitely didn’t love this book as much as I’d hoped I would, but I’m going to chalk that up to my completely incorrect expectations. I was prepared to listen to the grandmother’s story for the book’s two hundred pages, and was greatly disappointed in that, and I was definitely not expecting a book that would leave me in a bit of a depressive funk. (I’m gonna need a happy story and a box of kittens, stat!) But if you’re prepared for an intergenerational story of sadness, you won’t go wrong picking up this particular one. I’ll just be over here choosing my next Divakaruni book a bit more wisely.

Recommendation: For people who like stories about unhappy people of all ages and a little bit for people who like immigrant stories.

Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas (16 August)

I posted a while back about how I don’t read enough funny books; I’m starting to think it’s because I don’t have the right sense of humor for them. I don’t know what sense of humor you need to read this book, but I certainly don’t have it.

The stories in the book were definitely interesting; Dumas talks about her life as an Iranian transplant to America and how she grew up translating things for her parents (even before she spoke English well) and how much culture shock there is between Iran and California. But there was only one story that actually made me laugh, and it had nothing to do with either of those topics — this story (the second to last in the book) detailed a trip to the Bahamas during the spring break season which led to Dumas and her husband judging a beauty pageant. Oh, yes.

I think the problem I had with Dumas’s stories was that she tried really hard to shoehorn a moral or just a point into almost all of them. Of course, a story should have a point, but I feel like if you have to tell the reader what the point is, the story didn’t have one to begin with. I found myself thinking of a Certain Journalism Professor throughout the book; he says that after you write a story, you should remove the last sentence and see if it still works. If it does, kill the last sentence. CJP would have used a trusted assassin for this book.

Rating: 5/10

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