Book Review: Before We Visit The Goddess By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

“What is the nature of life?
Life is lines of dominoes falling.
One thing leads to another, and then another, just like you’d planned. But suddenly a Domino gets skewed, events change direction, people dig in their heels, and you’re faced with a situation that you didn’t see coming, you who thought you were so clever.”
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Before We Visit the Goddess

If ever you feel like reading a fiction, that holds within its pages a deep tale, with elements of profoundness, pick Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Her writing surpasses all, and the stories never fail to grip me. Here earlier books such as Palace of illusions, Oleander Girl and Mistress of Spices, have been bestsellers and portrayed human relationships and its complexities in a unique way. The latest, “Before we Visit the Goddess” is yet another brilliant book from Divakaruni that recounts an unseen tale spanning across three generations, between mothers and daughters.

The storyline

“Before We Visit the Goddess” opens with Sabitri. Frail and stricken with old age, she has never met her American born granddaughter Tara. When she hears her granddaughter considering dropping out of college, she begins writing a letter to her detailing her own life, reminiscing the past. She was the daughter of a poor sweet meat -maker in rural Bengal. As a young girl when Sabitri falls in love with a boy from a rich household, little did she realize she would be discarded from her own community. Her life takes a turn when she seeks refuge in a professor whom she eventually marries.

Years later, she finds herself yet again staring at an uncertain future, as her husband dies, forcing Sabitri to take charge of life and her daughter Bela. Fighting all odds she sets up Durga sweets making it into a successful enterprise. Over the years, life and fate take her on a roller coaster ride. Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees to America with the one she loved. But destiny had other plans and Bela is forced to search for her own path. Disconnected from her country and culture, she passes on much more than the bitterness of her life onto her daughter Tara.

Portrayal of characters

Emotions well portrayed, the tale describes a mother as she tries to save her own child from making the mistakes she had made years back. Yet she is unable to do so, generation after another. Sabitri is ambitious and resilient. Bela is talented and strong willed, yet lack’s the enterprising skill and ambition her mother possessed. Tara, disconnected from her roots, grows into a rebel. Her relationship with her mother remains rocky, as she throws away an education to find herself a monotonous job instead. All three women are distinctly apart, yet none crumble despite the agony and pain of betrayal they encounter. As relationships fall apart, its pieces are more difficult to gather. Yet the three generation attempt to find respect and purpose in life, trying to put as much of the pieces back together.

What I liked…. and did not too!

I loved the seamless integration of the three women and their lives across the years. Divakaruni’s characterization is a masterwork indeed. So is her prose. There were lines in the book that stayed with me much after I closed that last page.

However, parts of the book seemed to drag on with meaningless references. There were several loose ends that hardly had any conclusive narration. The book does open on an interesting note, but the climax doesn’t really do justice to the prose and closes on a rather hurried note. And yes.. The title of the book is quite a mystery to me. I can’t really fit in its significance.

Nevertheless Chitra Divakurni’s prose steals the show. Worth a read!!

13 comments

  1. Well written review,Ramya. I am reading it currently and I echo your thoughts here. Maybe at the end of the book it may change. But I know this is really a worthwhile read.

  2. The topic sounds interesting, so does your review, I am skeptic about the author…I could never really accept her storytelling I guess I am too much of a Indu Sundareshan or Krishna Udaysankar fan. 🙂

  3. I read it too – What you said about the loose ends was my chief grouse with the book. But then the prose is heartwarming as usual. A Divakaruni read is always a pleasure and she continues to be one of my favourites.

  4. Chitra Divakaruni’s book Sister of My Heart is one of my favourites. I love her style and her insightful observations on life. But I was sorely disappointed in this book. The way she strings together words to form evocative scenes is seen in this book too, however it doesn’t seem to have a soul. Something is missing.

  5. I am a big CDB fan and thought the book started well, but petered out as it progressed. Not one of her best for sure.
    Loved your detailed and honest review, Ramya. Glad our thoughts matched on the view of the book:)

  6. After reading Palace of Illusions, I am already a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni….I am definitely going to read this one Ramya as your review has intrigued me…..Few vague things that have bothered you, I am sure I will overcome them given the beauty of the prose. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. I haven’t read this one although I’ve read 4-5 other books of hers. I think my favourites have been Sister of my Heart and Vine of desire. I just finished Queen of Dreams and while her writing is really good, I find sometimes I don’t love or hate her characters — and consequently, I don’t really care for them or about them. Still, her writing tends to keep me going.

  8. There are quite a few books of hers that I want to read, one being this. I wasn’t too enthralled by Palace of Illusions. While it didn’t have loose ends, as you say this one does (which is a major issue with me), there were parts where it dragged on a lot.
    I enjoy her prose, so plan to get to this one in a bit.

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