Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has crafted nine striking stories of love, identity, and loss in “The Unknown Errors of Our Lives.” While exploring cultural mores and the complexities of the Indo-American immigrant experience, Divakaruni paints heart-wrenching and heart-warming portraits of everyday life. Her perspective mixes insight with a barbed tongue in a way that makes each story witty, alive, and empathetic. Though many of the stories contain tragedy, none are tragic.
As part of my Year of Reading Women project, I was particularly taken with the way Divakaruni pays close attention to the roles women play and the way women stretch and scratch within cultural expectations.
“Everyone knows that a wife’s place is with her husband, and a widow’s with her son.”
“Because it is the lot of mothers to remember what no one else cares to …. To tell them over and over until they are lodged, perforce, in family lore. We are the keepers of the heart’s dusty corners.”
“Where I grew up you didn’t talk to your mother that way, not even when she lost what was most important in her life and thus ruined yours. And though my mother and I conversed about many things – my college professors, a new movie, the rising price of Ilish fish – we rarely spoke about what we really thought. We buried our hurts inside our bodies, like shrapnel. We’d been trained well by generations of grandmothers and widow-aunts whose silences weighed down the air and the crumbling ancestral home where we still lived…”
“The daughter sat by her mother for a long time, massaging her feet. They did not talk, though they wept a little. They were coming to terms with erosion, how it changes the balance of a landscape. Perhaps it was something all parents and children undergo as they grow older. But in their case, they had stepped into a time machine named immigration, and when they fell from its ferocious spinning, it was into the alien habits of a world they had imagined imperfectly. In this world, they could not inhabit a house together, in the old way. They could not be mother and daughter in that way again.”
Divakaruni’s collection of short stories was reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”, not simply for the exquisite flavors of Indo-American life but also in the fluidity and grace of its language. While both collections are emotionally-weighty, relatively thin volumes, I found “The Unknown Errors of Our Lives” to be slightly less grave. The stories, though deep and dark, were dappled with sunlight and hope.