Excerpt from The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 268 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2002, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


The woman looks up, and the light slip-slides over her hungry cheekbones. What is she hungry for? She's finished demolishing the cake, but her fingers continue to twitch. Ruchira suspects scars under the leather, puckered fang marks in the dip inside the woman's elbow, the same place she loves to kiss on Biren's arm. Where she has chewed away the lipstick, the woman's lips are papery, like palest cherry blossom. Then she speaks, an unexpected dimple appears in her cheek, and Ruchira is shocked to discover she's beautiful. "My name's Arlene," she says.

Ruchira wants to ask how she knew about her and Biren, about this apartment. Did she see them on Telegraph Avenue, perhaps, late one night, returning from a movie at the Pacific Film Archives? Did she follow them back? Did she watch from the shadows as they kissed under a streetlamp, their hands inside each other's coats? Ruchira wants to ask if she loved him, too.

But she knows enough to wait--it's a game of silences they are playing--and after a while Arlene says, "It'll be born in a month, in February." She narrows her eyes and stares as though Ruchira were a minor fact she's memorizing for a future test, one she'd rather not take.

This time Ruchira loses the game because she can't bear not to know.

"Does he know about the baby?"

"Yes."

Ruchira holds this new, trembling knowledge like a too-heavy blob of paint at the end of a brush, threatening to ruin the entire painting unless she finds the right spot to apply it.

"He gave me the money for an abortion. But I didn't."

Ruchira closes her eyes. The insides of her eyelids are like torn brown silk, like hundreds of birds taking flight at a killing sound. When she opens them Arlene lifts her shoulders in a shrug. The knife hilt moves up and down over the bumpy bones of her thin chest. The blade is curved in the shape of a Nepali kukri. Ruchira wonders how much it hurt to get the tattoo done, and how the tattooer knew about Nepali knives, and if Arlene ever looked in the mirror and thought of it as a mistake.

"He doesn't know I kept it," Arlene says. She grins suddenly, for the first time, with gamine charm, a kid who's just won at kickball. There's a small, neat gap between her front teeth. A famous poet--who was it?--had proclaimed gap-toothed women to be sexy. Why is it that Ruchira can never remember crucial information when she needs to?

Arlene stands up with a decisive scrape of her chair.

"Wait," Ruchira cries. "Where do you live? Do you have health insurance? Do you need money?" She reaches for her purse and digs frantically in it, coming up with all the bills she can find, ones and fives and a twenty, and extends them to Arlene.

"I'm going to Arizona," says Arlene. She doesn't offer further details. She doesn't stretch out her hand for the money. She does a little pirouette (was she a dancer, before?) and from the door she calls out, "Think of me in February, in Arizona." *****

The first thing Ruchira does after she is sure Arlene is gone is to run down the stairs to the garbage area. There it is, next to the dumpster: the blue recycling bin with its triangle of arrows. In her mind she's seeing the garbage bag, white, with a red tie, that she upended over it--was it just two days back?-- freeing a tumble of papers and books. In her mind she's already dug past the discards of other people's lives-term papers and love letters and overdue bills-to grab it. She's opened its purple cover and has started writing, she isn't done writing even when her hand begins to cramp up, she fills her book of errors all the way to the back cover and has more to put down, that's how much she's learned in this one hour.

But the bin is empty.

Ruchira leans into the wall, pressing her forehead against the fake stucco. It smells of sour milk and diapers, and its bumps leave indentations on her skin. Behind her she hears footsteps approach.

Copyright 2001 by Chitra Banjeree Divakaruni. This section first appeared in the publication Prairie Schooner in Spring 2001.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -