Summary and book reviews of The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 268 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2002, 288 pages

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Book Summary

A collection of moving stories about family, culture, and the seduction of memory. The tales of journeys and returns, of error, of loss and recovery, all resound with Divakaruni's unique understanding of the human spirit.

From acclaimed and beloved author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni comes a new collection of moving stories about family, culture, and the seduction of memory. With the rich prose and keen insight that made Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart national bestsellers, these tales of journeys and returns, of error, of loss and recovery, all resound with her unique understanding of the human spirit.

"Don't we all have to pay, no matter what we choose?" a young woman asks in "The Love of a Good Man," one of the unforgettable stories in Chitra Divakaruni's beautifully crafted exploration of the tensions between new lives and old. In tales set in India and the United States, she illuminates the transformations of personal landscapes, real and imagined, brought about by the choices men and women make at every stage of their lives.

"The Love of a Good Man" tells of an Indian woman happily settled in the United States who must confront the past when her long-estranged father begs to meet his only grandson. In the acclaimed "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter", a widow, inadvertently eavesdropping, discovers that her cherished, old-fashioned ways are an embarrassment to her daughter-in-law. A young American woman joins a pilgrimage of women in Kashmir and, in the land of her ancestors, comes to view herself and her family in a new light in "The Lives of Strangers." Two women, uprooted from their native land by violence and deception, find unexpected comfort and hope in each other in "The Blooming Season for Cacti." And in the title story, a young woman turns to her painting and the wisdom of her grandmother for the strength to accept her fiance's past when it arrives on her doorstep.

Whether writing about the adjustments of immigrants to a foreign land or the accommodations families make to the disruptive differences between generations, Divakaruni poignantly portrays the eternal struggle to find a balance between the pull of home and the allure of change.

Excerpt
The Unknown Errors of Our Lives

Ruchira is packing when she discovers the notebook in a dusty alcove of her apartment. It is sandwiched between a high school group photo in which she smiles tensely at the camera, her hair hacked short around her ears in a style that was popular that year, and a box of brittle letters, the sheets tinged with blue and smelling faintly of sweet betel nut, from her grandmother, who is now dead. For a moment she fingers the book's limp purple cover, its squished spiral binding, and wonders what's inside, it's been that long since she wrote in it. Then she remembers. Of course! It's her book of errors, from her midteens, a time she thinks back on now as her Earnest Period.

She imagines telling Biren about it. "I was a gawky girl with a mouth full of braces and a head full of ideas for self-improvement."

"And then?" he would ask.

"Then I turned twenty-six, and decided I was perfect just the way I was."

In response, Biren would ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does Ruchira's and Biren's imminent marriage reflect a combination of traditional Hindu and modern American practices? Where does Arlene fit into this unique mixture and what does she represent?

  2. Is Ruchira's decision to go forward with her marriage after having met Arlene understandable? Why does she choose to do so? How does this choice affect her?

  3. If Ruchira could get back her "book of errors" [p. 211], what might she write in it now?

  4. How does each story reflect the paradox conveyed by the title phrase "unknown errors"? How much control do the characters in the stories have over the directions their lives take, and how much is predetermined by fate?

  5. "Families were not for fun. They were for feeding and clothing and ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Evocative tales which explore the gulf between the beliefs and traditions of India and those of modern America, mostly seen from the viewpoint of the Indian mother's whose children have made America their homeland. Across the nine stories, written in her usual sensuous and lyrical style, Divakaruni explores the emotional dislocation of the 'time machine called immigration'.  

Media Reviews

The New Yorker

Divakaruni's prose is so pungent that it stains the page, yet beneath the sighs and smells of this brand of magic realism she deftly introduces her true theme how an ability to accommodate desire enlivens not only the individual heart but a society cornered by change.

USA Today

Her literary voice is a sensual bridge between worlds. India and America. Children and parents. Men and women. Passion and pragmatism.

New York Times Book Review

Mrs. Divakaruni's stories are as irresistible as the impulse that leads her characters to surface into maturity, raising their heads above floods of silver ignorance.

Publishers Weekly

Intensely touching tales of lapsed communication, inarticulate love and redemptive memories. This is a mixed collection, then, but one worth reading for the predominance of narratives that ring true...

Booklist - Donna Seaman

These hauntingly beautiful stories of epiphany and catharsis place Divakaruni in the vanguard of fine literary writers who touch a broad spectrum of readers.

Reader Reviews

Amber

I thought this book was amazingly well-written and extremely 'real'. Having grown up half of my life in the West and half in the East, I could relate to many, many issues that were discussed. The first story "Mrs Dutta writes a letter" ...   Read More

geetha

The Unknown Errors
I thought some of the stories are not clear. I found many of the characters are like real characters.

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