‘Before We Visit the Goddess’ By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an obvious pick for me. Essentially a fiction, ‘Before We Visit the Goddess’ deals with three women affixed by genes, their vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses in various layers. Spread across seven decades and two continents, this offering by Divakaruni unfolds various realms of life underlined with love, deceit, regret, redemption and longing. This bitter sweet matriarchal saga stands tall on the author’s artistry, and cajoles you read, ponder and absorb the tale with sobs and smiles in lieu.
The story that Chitra Banerjee chose to dabble with is nothing extraordinary or unusual. Rather it is this ordinariness that perhaps makes this saga, appealing. Sabitri, the ambitious daughter of a sweet maker Durga, falls in love with Rajib, out of bound, sinfully touching the higher echelons of the society. Deceive follows, and Sabitri finds herself in lurch. She is then cushioned by a man of character, Bijan, who respectfully offers love and marriage. But yet again, things turn arduous for Sabitri, when people from her clandestine past drop with a thud. How Sabitri reconstructs her life, her fractured relationship with her daughter, Bela, and her wistful longing for Tara (her granddaughter whom she never met), is what forms the fulcrum of this consuming tale.
The story is enhanced by its spellbinding narrative that takes this fiction to another level. The author’s exquisite choice of words and seamless flow of the language, soars high. The book opens with Sabitri writing a letter to her granddaughter, trying to stop her from dropping out of the college. While she writes, Sabitri’s own life forms the formidable backdrop, which she decides to reveal Tara, in hope for a final redemption. The narration is laborious, slow and grossly fatigued. Yet it blends perfectly because through this, the author tries to sketch the inherent bent of her protagonist. And, does that immaculately. Likewise, the moment we hear Tara, the narrative shifts its gear and becomes a first person, present tense narration unfurling at Houston. It isn’t slow or tired anymore, and is rather exuberant, colloquial, and Americanized, making it every bit of an authentic portrayal. Chitra Banerjee maneuvers different voices all through the novel effortlessly. Keeping the emotions succinct, needless to say, she assailed valiantly on this tricky terrain with arresting literary brilliance.
‘Before We Visit the Goddess’ travels a great deal with time. And, there is a lot of back and forth throughout the narrative. If not attentive enough, there are chances that you might miss the loop. Editing could have been a shade better here, but on a larger note, it works just fine. Crisp and tight, helping the story flow in limits, in spite of toying with such a scaly plot. However, there are few conjunctures where I am not too convinced at the author’s stand:
Cover Image: I am yet to find a parallel between the basic ethos of the novel and a high spirited Rajasthani female on the cover picture. I find it disconnected and thus doesn’t resonate for me.
The Title: There is a chapter in this novel ‘Before we visit the Goddess’. Understandably, it is a significant chapter because of the change it brings about in a certain character. But, if that is a good enough reason for naming the book after, not too sure about that. There was definitely room for if not a better, but a different title, indeed.
Plot (Second half): The plot in the second half was not as rich and poignant as in the first. Somewhere, the story was slipping out, and the author was trying hard to hold it with her narrative. Introduction of Ken, and Sajay’s journey from Shonu to Jayman, was slightly amateurish compared to the kind of depth that was in display just few pages before. I would have instead loved to have little bit more of Sabitri and her wrenched tale here too.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘Before We Visit The Goddess’ comes to an end. But, what stays behind is the warmth that it evoked around me. For Divakaruni’s fans, this novel is a soulful delight. No marks for guessing that. For those who don’t like her literature, fair enough, choices are meant to be respected. But for those who have never laid their hands on her novels, pick this up, I strongly suggest. And, for me, I will pluck out one surreal line from this book, that sums up my entire gamut of emotions as I conclude. Here we go:
“Ebb and Flow, Ebb and Flow our lives, Is it why we’re fascinated by the steadfastness of the stars.”