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Before We Visit the Goddess


Before We Visit the Goddess

There is something exciting about watching the pieces of a puzzle fall into place, even if you are not making the actual moves. And there is something satisfying about seeing characters in a novel you have grown to love become more than you had hoped. In BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s 16th novel, four generations of one family pass on the losses and misjudgments of one mother to her daughter, to her daughter, to her daughter.

The story begins with the decision of Durga to push her daughter, Sabitri, into getting an education, something she herself had always wanted. This leap toward a new life, as Divakaruni tells us, begins with a tray of sweets. Durga was legendary in her village for sweet delicacies served at parties, weddings and family dinners, and her genius at cooking had given her some cache with the upper class. She ingeniously convinces a wealthy, selfish woman in Kolkata to pay for Sabitri’s college as long as she earned good grades. Sabitri settles into schoolwork and a very isolated life, and she also falls in love with the young son of her benefactor. Unfortunately, Sabitri misjudges many things, and she is summarily dismissed from the situation with nothing but a satchel of her old clothing.

"A completely satisfying conclusion does not happen that often --- and a surprising and touching ending is even more rare. Divakaruni allows the last be both richly emotional and enlightening."

This embarrassing failure shapes her life, and a discovery of who she was before she married and became a beloved wife and mother shapes the lives of her daughter Bela and granddaughter Tara. Divakaruni weaves the near past with the distant past and brings us to the present, all in a few chapters spanning over 50 years. She emphasizes the extraordinary importance of heritage and family stories, repeating the proverb Good daughters are fortunate lamps, brightening the family’s name. Wicked daughters are firebrands, blackening the family’s fame.The truth of this saying is reflected in the relationships among Sabitri, Bela and Tara.

Through a collection of characters interacting over many years, including a young man whose lover left him because it just didn’t feel right, Divakaruni asks us: “What is more painful? The misplaced past or the runaway future?” When Tara must accompany a traveling Indian to a Meenakshi temple in Pearland, Texas, the visitor placates the old priest by claiming her as a member of his own family. She is surprised but discovers she needed that connection. “Without a birth chart, how would you know who you really were? Adrift in the universe, how would you navigate your life?” Divakaruni also invites us to imagine if a disappearing magician even matters. N.B. he does.

A completely satisfying conclusion does not happen that often --- and a surprising and touching ending is even more rare. Divakaruni allows the last segment, “A Thousand Words: 2020,” to be both richly emotional and enlightening.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on April 22, 2016

Before We Visit the Goddess
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1476792011
  • ISBN-13: 9781476792019