Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the new novel Before We Visit the Goddess. Her many other books include Oleander Girl and The Mistress of Spices. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and The New York Times, and she is the McDavid Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
Q: Your new novel focuses on three generations of women. Why did you decide on that dynamic?
A: Before We Visit the Goddess looks at the connections and disconnections among three generations – that was important to me because I wanted to follow the dynamics of a family over a significant period of time and through differences in geography and culture to see what sustains us, and what poses challenges. Three seemed the right number.
Q: The book’s chapters jump around in time. Did you plan the structure before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I had always planned that this would be a non-chronological structure. It was a new challenge I wanted to set myself. I knew I wanted this novel to be organized around emotionally resonant moments and transformative moments in these women’s lives.
I loved the structure once I started writing. It was very agile and did not get bogged down in providing facts that were not necessarily central to the drama of these three lives.
Q: The last chapter takes place in 2020. Why did you decide to include a chapter set in the future?
A: For reasons of historical accuracy, Sabitri’s story had to begin soon after India’s independence. I counted ahead from that moment to the year when Bela is about to enter an assisted living facility – it just happened to be 2020!
Q: The book’s title is also the title of one of the chapters. How was it selected as the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
A: The book’s title, Before We Visit the Goddess, is also the title of an important chapter of where the granddaughter Tara’s life, which has reached an all-time low, will turn around. It’s also the story where she makes a visit to an Indian temple (much against her will!).
The title indicates that before we can be in touch with our spiritual selves, we often have to go through a learning process, which is not necessarily a comfortable one.
There are some important lessons we must learn. In my mind they have to do with compassion and forgiveness-- of oneself as well as others. For me, all this is implied in the title.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just started on a new novel based in an orphanage in India.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Before We Visit the Goddess has been getting really wonderful reviews both nationally and internationally. Right from the week it came out in India, it has been on the national bestseller list, often at number one. All this is very exciting and quite a surprise for me!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, please click here.