Back in May 2017 I was asked to take over the book discussion group at the Punta Gorda Library. The pressure was on to pick the first book for the group to read after I took over. I quickly popped onto the Reading Group Guides website
to see what was “hot” with book clubs right now. The first book that popped up was Before We Visit the Goddess
by Chitra Divakaruni. The cover of the book is what drew me in. It is a beautiful cover.
Perhaps one of the truest-to-life mother-daughter stories, Before We Visit the Goddess tells the story of Sabitri, Bela, and Tara. Three generations of an Indian-American family trying to make their way in this world. Sabitri yearns to get an education, but as the daughter of a poor rural baker, the profits from their sweet shop are not enough to do so. When a well-to-do local woman takes Sabitri under her wing, it looks like her fortunes will change. Until Sabitri falls in love with the woman’s son.
Years later, forced to deal with her mother’s mistake, Bela decides to flee to America with her student leader boyfriend. Moving to the U.S. ends up not being the positive move Bela thought it would be. As her marriage falls apart and her daughter Tara, grows even more distant, Bela tries to keep Tara from throwing away her education by reaching out to Sabitri.
A beautifully written story filled with descriptions of many Indian delicacies. If you are like me, you start wanting to try all of them. One day, I hope to be brave enough to try making them.
While putting together information about the author, I found that she will do a video chat with book clubs. I sent an email asking about the video chat and Ms. Divakaruni responded that she would love to “meet” with us. The day of the chat, technical difficulties prevented us from video chatting but the author was kind enough to answer our questions via text message. She was lovely and our book group thoroughly enjoyed asking questions which helped us understand the book even better. I can’t thank the author enough for making my first month of running the book club such a success!
Here is a transcript of our texting session
________________________BEGINNING OF CHAT ___________________________________
Chitra: Hi, this is Chitra. I’m here if you want to ask me some questions via text.
Book Group: Thank you. We have a question about the back and forth time line. Was there a reason you wrote it that way?
Chitra: Yes, I didn’t want this to be a traditional family saga with hundreds of pages. I wanted to make this book work like memory does – moving back and forth between the most resonant parts of our lives. I put the dates so that the reader wouldn’t be too confused. I hope it worked.
Book Group: Yes it did!
Book Group: Are any characters based on people in your life?
Chitra: The characters are all fictional, although some parts of Sabitri’s life are close to my mother’s – she is of the same era, and she worked very hard to go to college but could never complete her degree but the other details are all fictional.
Book Group: Question about the magician – Was he real or a figment of Bela’s imagination?
Chitra: That is really up to the reader to interpret. In Bela’s mind, he is real and therefore he has an effect on her life. The truth also could be somewhere in between – that he doesn’t appear the first time, but then she imagines him the rest of the times. I mean that he does appear the first time for a few minute, but them she imagines him the rest of the times.
Book Group: I love Bipin. He was my favorite. Was he in love with Sabitri?
Chitra: I love his character also. We should all be lucky to have a friend like him! Yes, he is in love with her all his life and remains faithful to her even when she explicitly doesn’t return that love. There are several characters like him in the book. Through them I wanted to express that sometimes the people we most depend on are not our families but friends or maybe even strangers.
Book Group: Beautiful. Can you explain the meaning behind the title of the book?
Chitra: The title relates to the visit Tara makes to the temple. But a more symbolic meaning is that we are all on a spiritual journey – to visit the goddess inside of us. But before we can be in touch with our sacred selves at the deep level, we need to undergo some things and learn some lessons – compassion, forgiveness, etc.
Book Group: So, do you have a sweet tooth and which is your favorite?
Chitra: LOL. Yes, I do have a sweet tooth!. Sweets are a traditional favorite in my part of India, Bengal. Chocolate Sandesh is my favorite, just like Bela. I have a really good recipe for it on my website ChitraDivakaruni.com, on my blog. In fact I have several recipes from the book on my blog.
Kathy: I’ve been on the blog. I need to find Paneer.
Chitra: Life hack: If you can’t find paneer, you can use ricotta cheese. Strain it in a soft cloth so that some of the liquid comes out of it.
Kathy: Thank you. I’ll try that.
Book Group: Any new books in the works?
Chitra: I’m working on a novel which is a retelling of a famous Indian epic. I’m retelling it from the point of view of one of the major female characters.
Book Group: Very nice. Thank you so much for chatting with us. We all enjoyed the book and the chat.
Chitra: Thank you for reading my book. I hope you’re going to try some of the other ones. You can always keep in touch with me on my Facebook page or on Twitter as @cdivakaruni. By for now.
___________________________END OF CHAT_____________________________________
You can order Before We Visit the Goddess at Amazon
or check with your local independent bookstore or library.
Thanks for reading.