Book Review – Before We Visit the Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Before We Visit the Goddess

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of my favourite Indian authors. If you have read her other works, this one is a must read.

Before We Visit the Goddess is a tale of three women– a mother, a daughter and a granddaughter. It spans across the lifetimes of these three women and is mostly in their point of view.

When you read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s books, the one thing that always stands out is how she portrays the relationships between characters. It comes out in all its brilliance in this book. The book is rich in details, yet at no point is it long or boring.

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The beginning is with Sabitri, a girl from a small village, who wants to study and help her family. She moves to Kolkatta with the help of Leelamoyi and finds love, heartbreak, and hope in the city. As she continues to take us through her life, we meet Sabitri’s mother, Rajiv, and Bijan. All these characters we come to know through Sabitri’s eyes.

She marries and has a daughter – Bela. Once I got to know Sabitri, Bela comes across as less interesting. Yet, she does have some unique experiences in life early on. When Sabitri loses her husband, she moves on and starts a business which she names after her mother, Durga. Meanwhile, Bela falls in love and elopes to America with Sanjay against Sabitri’s wishes. They have a daughter, Tara.

While Sabitri becomes an independent business woman after her husband’s death, Bela’s life goes downhill when her husband leaves her. Tara caught in the midst of the divorce goes her own way – a journey where she learns about love, heartbreak, and life.

It is interesting that while Bela blames Sabitri for many things including the death of her baby brother, Tara does the same to her mother. But Bela doesn’t understand why her daughter does so.

The journeys of Sabitri and Tara are quite similar but set in different times. Throughout the book characters come and go. Like the aaya, Robert, Mrs. Mehta, Dr. V, Ken. Even these small characters have an important role to play in the lives of these three women. Every so often we need someone to place blame on; we need a shoulder to cry on. These characters are that and more. They change the lives of our three ladies in a small way at least – small steps at a time that eventually add up to the strength of character. We also get to know about their stories and how they are change for the better.

The book shows us how decisions made ages ago still come back haunt us and those we love. Sabitri will forever be my favourite character in this book. She really becomes a strong woman despite, or perhaps because of, where she started from. Tara comes a close second.

A book worth reading.

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