Synopses & Reviews
Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family; her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of that family. Sudha is as beautiful, tenderhearted, and serious as Anju is plain, whip-smart, and defiant. Yet since the day they were born, Sudha and Anju have been bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend.
The cousins' bond is shattered, however, when Sudha learns a dark family secret. Urged into arranged marriages, their lives take sudden, opposite turns: Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household, while Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. Then tragedy strikes them both, and the women discover that, despite the distance that has grown between them, they have only each other to turn to. Set in the two worlds of India and America, this is an exceptionally moving novel of love, friendship, and compelling courage.
From the award-winning author of "Mistress of Spices" comes the bestselling novel, now in paperback, about the bond between two women and the family secrets and romantic jealousies that threaten to tear them apart.
About the Author
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the bestselling author of the novels Sister of My Heart
and The Mistress of Spices
; the story collections The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
and Arranged Marriage,
which received several awards, including the American Book Award; and four collections of prize-winning poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Ms., Zoetrope, Good Housekeeping, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Best American Short Stories 1999,
and The New York Times.
Born in India, Divakaruni lives near Houston.
For further information about Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, visit her Web site at www.chitradivakaruni.com.
Reading Group Guide
1. What kind of relationship is there between the older generation in India, who live in a world full of mystical tales and magical occurrences, and Anju and Sudha's generation, which is more drawn to Western ideals? Why are both cousins, especially Anju, skeptical of their own culture and interested in the west, particularly America? How do they incorporate each world into their lives?
2. How are Sudha and Anju different, and how are they similar? Despite their differences, what continues to keep their relationship strong?
3. The mothers tell the girls that loving someone too much is dangerous. What are they trying to achieve with this warning?
4. What does the ruby symbolize? What is the significance of Anju and Sudha being so "unlucky" in the circumstances under which they were born? Why was it significant for Sudha to know the truth about her past and not be able to tell Anju?
5. There is often a great disparity between what is the proper thing to do and what is the fun, exciting thing to do. How does this theme play itself out in the novel?
6. Why does Anju's mother welcome Sudha and her mother into the family even though she knows the truth about Sudha's father? In contrast, why is Sudha's mother so harsh and seemingly ungrateful? Do she and her daughter belong in the house?
7. The mothers often tell stories and gossip. What role do these stories play in their livesand in the lives of Sudha and Anju?
8. According to Bidhata Purush's predictions, Anju is supposed to be brave and clever, fight injustice, marry a fine man and travel the world, while Sudha is supposed to have a life of sorrow. Do the girls live up to these predictions? If not, how else would you characterize each?
9. How did having a man enter each of their lives affect the girls' friendship? Would the friendship have evolved differently had they not married? Are men portrayed positively or negatively in this book?
10. Why is there jealousy between the two cousins? Is it inevitable despite their mutual love? Do they ever successfully rise above it?
11. How does Anju change after she comes to America? Would she have been as independent and assertive if she had stayed in India?
12. Sudha defies traditional Indian culture by leaving her husband and raising her child on her own. How do her actions affect her deep connection to Indian culture? How does the author portray Sudha's decision?
13. The keeping of secrets and the telling of lies play a huge part in the novel. Why are so many secrets kept? Is it better to keep some secrets and to tell some lies or to always share the truth?
14. Discuss your reaction to finding out Singhji's identity. Was Sudha's response reasonable?
15. Should Sudha have gone with Ashok? Throughout the novel, does Sudha give up too much for Anju? Are sacrifices required of a true friend?
16. For Discussion: Divakaruni's Novels and Stories
What do the characters in Divakaruni's novels and stories lose and gain as they become more "American"?
17. In the story "Affair," Abha says, "It's not wrong to be happy, is it? To want more out of life than fulfilling duties you took on before you knew what they truly meant?" How is this idea further developed in The Mistress of Spices? In Sister of My Heart?
18. In Divakaruni's stories, women are wives and mothers, but the men are portrayed primarily as husbands, not fathers. How are the men's roles in the novels similar to or different from those in the stories?
19. How does the Indian immigrant experience compare to that of other immigrants--Spanish, Italian, Chinese?
The questions, discussion topics and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's novels Sister of My Heart and The Mistress of Spices, as well as her collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking at and talking about these three books by a gifted writer, whose chameleon-like voice and mastery of rhythm create unforgettable characters and weave stories that are both exotic and familiar, fresh and universal.