"Don't we all have to pay, no matter what we choose?" a young woman asks in "The Love of a Good Man," one of the remarkable stories in Chitra Divakaruni's beautifully crafted exploration of the tensions between new lives and old. In tales set in India and the United States, Divakaruni illuminates the transformations of personal landscapes, real and imagined, brought about by the choices men and women make at every stage of their lives.
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April 17, 2001
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Excerpt from The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
When the alarm goes off at 5:00 A.M., buzzing like a trapped wasp, Mrs. Dutta has been lying awake for quite a while. Though it has now been two months, she still has difficulty sleeping on the Perma Rest mattress Sagar and Shyamoli, her son and daughter-in-law, have bought specially for her. It is too American-soft, unlike the reassuringly solid copra ticking she is used to at home. Except this is home now, she reminds herself. She reaches hurriedly to turn off the alarm, but in the dark her fingers get confused among the knobs, and the electric clock falls with a thud to the floor. Its insistent metallic call vibrates out through the walls of her room until she is sure it will wake everyone. She yanks frantically at the wire until she feels it give, and in the abrupt silence that follows she hears herself breathing, a sound harsh and uneven and full of guilt.
Mrs. Dutta knows, of course, that this turmoil is her own fault. She should just not set the alarm. There is no need for her to get up early here in Sunnyvale, in her son's house. But the habit, taught to her by her mother-in-law when she was a bride of seventeen, a good wife wakes before the rest of the household, is one she finds impossible to break. How hard it was then to pull her unwilling body away from her husband's sleep-warm clasp, Sagar's father whom she had just learned to love. To stumble to the kitchen that smelled of stale garam masala and light the coal unoon so she could make morning tea for them all -- her parents-in-law, her husband, his two younger brothers, the widow aunt who lived with them.