Before We Visit The Goddess
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Before We Visit The Goddess is a beautiful tale of three generations of women who have loved, lost, and misunderstood each other over a span of a lifetime. It’s a bittersweet tale of motherhood of three women Sabitri, Bela and Tara woven through a tapestry of different perspectives in first person and the people who were important in their lives.
Before We Visit the Goddess is a story of immense alienation felt in myriad ways and the deep need to connect to the ones you love. Each mother has ambitions for her only child, only to be scorned and rejected until the final twist when redemption suddenly comes but it might be too late.
The novel may seem linear in format but through the narrations we flicker back in time to go more in depth with the characters’ thoughts and reasons. It’s a story of how small incidents can alter relationships and how time can manipulate your ego to hold on to grudges long after the memory has faded.
Sabitri’s mother is a master at making sweets, a talent that leads to her daughter getting favours from a rich household that allows Sabitri to go to school. Sabitri’s story is a heart warming tale of a young girl who is tenacious enough to learn everything her mother wanted, but falls into a trap, disappoints her surrogate mother Leelamoyi and must start over again; a theme that is repeated in different ways through Sabitri’s daughter Bela and her daughter Tara. Sabitri’s encounter with a stranger and her choices set off a series of events that are intricately related to the lives of her future generations.
Bela, Sabitri’s daughter is passionate and fiery, exactly like her mother but makes choices that break her mother’s heart. She lives a life full of love and loss until she finds small happiness in the unlikeliest of places through a stranger.
Tara’s story is one of a typical American Born Confused Desi with a fantastic new angle. Her desire to fit in, stand out and be accepted is told in a new way until again like her mother, it’s an encounter with a stranger and not someone she loves that sets her on a new path.
Each woman grows through the years and changes to understand herself better and as readers we see how similar they all are. Regrettably only we readers can understand how deeply connected their choices are and the depth of their immeasurable need for their mother who they reject until maybe it’s too late.
This book could have also been called Fortunate Lamps from the letter Sabitri starts writing to Tara: “Good daughters are fortunate lamps, brightening the family’s name. Wicked daughters are firebrands, blackening the family’s fame.”
Whether they are Fortunate Lamps or not, is left to the reader to decide.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a master story teller and she has outdone herself in this novel, weaving in narratives from a male and female viewpoint, leaping through decades and pausing for the moments that we over look in life but the ones that actually matter. This book is tender, sublime, beautiful and evocative. You are sucked into the worlds that seem familiar but are always out of reach. One is moved by the stories of each of the characters, not just the three main women.
I truly loved Palace of Illusions and it was my favourite novel for a long time until BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS came along and has toppled it. Kudos Chitra. Didn’t want this book to end though it has remained with me long after I finished it.