Before We Visit the Goddess
“She watched him from the kitchen alcove as she washed dishes, a little bemused herself. Why, you could be acquainted with a person for years, thinking you knew them. Then suddenly they’d do something that showed you there were layers to them you hadn’t ever suspected.”
From Before We Visit the Goddess
I am a big fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Her writing always has a lyrical yet familial sense and it’s because of this that I always pick up her latest work. I was surprised and delighted when I saw that this Texas author was heading to one of my favorite bookstores in Los Angeles to promote her latest book, Before We Visit the Goddess. Watching her speak to the crowd of dedicated fans was almost just as great as reading her work because she is as genuine and soft as the language that pervades her work.
Before We Visit the Goddess is a tale that interweaves the stories of different roles of family (and friends that have become like family) members, particularly between three generations of women: grandmother, mother and daughter. The narrative jumps between each mother and daughter, as well as other family and friends, and from different times and places. Typically I am not a fan of a narrative such as this but Divakaruni’s writing seamlessly weaves the story like the silk through a sari.
The daughter of a poor baker and priest in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata allows Sabitri to stay with her and pays for her college, but her generosity soon proves disingenuous after the Sabitri falls in love with her son. Years later, Sabitri’s daughter, Bela, grows up always haunted by something but not knowing that it was her mother’s choices that have been doing so. Bela grows up to make the almost same mistakes in love that her mother did but doesn’t recognize this because of the lack of communication between Sabitri and Bela. Bela eventually flees to the U.S. with her political refugee lover—but the love and the country she flees to isn’t what she had imagined. The marriage unravels like all the tales of love in this book and Bela does as well. Without her mom, her husband, or her daughter Tara— who holds deep resentment toward Bela for the divorce—she is forced to forge her own path but finds an unsuspecting talent, ally and friend in the process. During all of this her daughter, Tara, lives a life not typical to their culture and is just as rebellious as she is broken, finding her own heartbreak and also no mother to turn to for the comforts that most daughters need.
This book examines the bond between mother and daughter and how generations can relive mistakes when they try to put the past behind them and not confront it head on. It’s about suppressing the past but still letting it run your life. It’s about how the lack of communication between mother and daughter can cause a family to relive heartbreak that a mother tries to shield her daughter from. But above all, I think that this book is about living your fullest potential no matter what happened your past and what age you are. Although I had many lingering and unanswered questions after I read the book, I also think that the book accomplished what it set out to do which was tell the story of mother daughter bonds and how the dreams each mother has for their own daughter can’t influence what the daughter does with her life.