C is for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

C is for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Born 1956

After two
days of delving in the past I fast forward to current times and pick a modern
day favourite, an Indian American this time and a lady yet again.. I really
hadn’t realised I preferred women writers with women protagonists.

Today it is
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni the author of the award winning The Mistress of Spices.
She has authored over a dozen books including novels and short stories as well
as some poetry. Her subjects are often Indian American immigrants. Her books include Arranged Marriage (short stories), Sister of My Heart, The Vine of Desire and Oleander Girl among others.

India to

She was born
in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and after finishing her graduation she moved to the
United States. It wouldn’t have been easy for her there and she took up various
small jobs to put herself through college – ‘menial and minimum wages’ is what
she terms them. However had she not moved, she just might not have become a
writer at all

On being a

In her blog
she says, “In India, growing up in a traditional family, I had never considered
being a writer.
” In America she came across other immigrants like her. She
identified with their struggles, struggles to fit into this new country yet to
keep their values intact at some level. And that’s where she started weaving
her stories and her first book ‘Arranged Marriage’ was born. Some of her stories
have a nagging melancholy, I don’t particularly are for, but they do paint a vivid picture of immigrants.

My favourites

I love the quaint
mix of India and America she serves up in her novels. I enjoyed The Mistress of Spices. That mix of magic and exotica coupled with
human longings and failings made for a compelling read.

However my absolute all time favourite is the one novel that doesn’t talk of immigrants. It is The Palace of Illusions –  a retelling of the Mahabharat, from a woman’s
perspective. Banerjee simplifies the epic once more talking of human failings and human relationships.

Her protagonist Draupadi is a princess ‘born to destroy’, the ‘ill-fated’ one. Yet how strong she is – a woman who refused
to take the name Draupadi (from her father’s name Drupad) and preferred to call
herself Panchali (after the kingdom of Panchal, where she was born). That must
have been quite a rarity in those days when women spent their lives in the shadow
of their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons. Forced to marry five men instead of the one she truly loved she strives to be a good wife to each. I loved her special relationship with Krishna too – his cool responses to her heated ones. She is passionate and outspoken, rash and vengeful too. Yet you cannot but fall in love with Banerjee’s Panchali.

PS: I have
to add just a tiny bit about my other favourite ‘C’ author – the lady from
Nigeria Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Interestingly her latest novel Americanah
also deals with the issue of immigrants to America. Talk about connecting across

This post is part of the April A to Z
Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.

Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

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60 Replies to “C is for Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni”

  1. I picked up 'Arranged Marriage' when I was at the airport ready to be an immigrant myself. I didn't relate to it at all at that point but now I slowly understand and totally agree to the writer. Not the marriage part but the immigrant part.

  2. I love stories about and of people moving to and from different places- the whole perspective thing…:-) Will add her books to my reading list . they sound great:-) Thanks for the tip:-)

  3. I read her because of my academic interest in the whole Indian-American experience during my NRI days in the US. I found it a mix bag – some of the stories in Arranged Marriage were interesting, but there was also a big dose of stereotype which I found a little difficult to digest at times. Among the Indian-American women authors I found Anita Desai and Jhumpa Lahiri better. Perhaps these two might be coming up in your list too! Oops, if that is so 😉

    1. Both not there Beloo.. sorry. You're right about the stereotyping in her books. My favourites are the different ones. You might like the two that are my favourites, if you haven't read them already.

    1. Like I said before it's really never too late to pick up a good book… there's so much to read out there. I'd love to hear from you after you read some of her.

  4. I never knew that Palace of Illusions was written by her, although I have heard a good deal about the book! Your posts are getting to be quite educational on the subject of authors. I need to read her soon. Great write-up, Tulika!

  5. Oh, I am such a poor reader! Whenever I read posts like this one I long to be addicted to books!
    Btw, I am from Lucknow too; rarely see anyone here from the City of Nawabs… so this was a pleasant surprise 🙂

    1. If you do find her you might like to try the others – the ones on Migrants – that is actually her forte. I love Palace of Illusions because I love mythology.

  6. I have to read the Palace of Illusions now…beautiful post about a wonderful writer. I think I will save all your posts and make a ebook of amazing writers. May I? 🙂

  7. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are my favourite epics of all time. Palace of Illusions swiftly downloaded to my ipad kindle. Thanks for introducing her. I hadn't heard of her before.

    1. The Ramayana was relatively a simple take but the Mahabharata is full of twists and turns and plots and subplots, the confusion between right and wrong… It's an amazing piece of work.

  8. Yay! my guess was correct!!
    Loved reading Palace of Illusions! have not picked up any other as yet.. will add Mistress of Spices to the list 🙂

  9. I read my first Divakaruni when it was gifted to me by my sister. And since it came from an avid reader like she, I knew I would love it and I did too. The book was Oleander Girl.


  10. Glad that you are introducing good authors through this theme Tulika.. From long time, Palace of Illusions was on my wishlist.. another motivator to order it soon 🙂 nice writeup!

  11. A friend of mine gifted me "Palace of Illusions" and said, "Read it, your writing style and thinking style would be enhanced. Tu ek dum firangi hai, read her and you will know how good desi writers are". I nodded and never touched the book as I already have 231 books in the to be read list. Now your write up about her makes me curious. I should start reading it soon!

    ~Smile, it makes (y)our day!
    Participant|AtoZ Challenge 2014

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