Skip to Main Content (Press Enter) Toggle side nav

Arranged Marriage Reader’s Guide

By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Arranged Marriage by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

READERS GUIDE

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.

Introduction

Divakaruni’s exquisitely wrought debut collection of stories chronicles the assimilation–and rebellion–that Indian-born girls and women in America undergo as they balance old treasured beliefs and surprising new desires. For the young girls and women brought to life in these stories, the possibility of change, of starting anew, is both as terrifying and filled with promise as the ocean that separates them from their homes in India. From a young bride whose fairy-tale vision of California is shattered when her husband is murdered to a proud middle-aged divorcée determined to succeed in San Francisco, Divakaruni paints eleven devastating portraits of women on the verge of an unforgettable transformation.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How do the physical and psychological landscapes of India and America differ in these stories?

2. "The Word Love" is written in second person. What does this unusual choice of voice add to the meaning and impact of the story?

3. The mother-daughter relationship is a central theme in many of these stories. Is the author making a general comment about this relationship?

4. Most of the stories in this collection focus on women who are in serious danger, be it physical, emotional, or both. Do the stories leave you reason to be hopeful for these women? How?

5. Do the women in these stories view themselves as having choices? Are they correct in their views, or are they deluding themselves?

6. 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"?

7. 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?

8. 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?

9. How does the Indian immigrant experience compare to that of other immigrants–Spanish, Italian, Chinese?

About this Author

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a devout Hindu, attended a convent school in India run by Irish nuns before she came to the United States in 1976. While most of Sister of My Heart takes place in Calcutta, Divakaruni explores the immigrant experience through Indian women in American cities in both The Mistress of Spices and Arranged Marriage.

Whether set in India or America, Divakaruni’s plots feature Indian-born women torn between old and new world values. She uses her sharp insight and skilled use of story, plot, and lyrical description to give readers a many-layered look at her characters and their respective worlds, which are filled with fear, hope, and discovery. Whether in California, Chicago, or Calcutta, women learn to adapt and, as a result, discover their own sense of self amidst joy and heartbreak.

Divakaruni did not write fiction until she finished her doctoral studies in English at the University of California at Berkeley. In speaking of her path to fiction writing, she notes that academic writing didn’t "touch my heart. It had nothing to do with my real life as an immigrant woman in America." Instead, she says of her fiction: "It was important for me to start writing about my own reality and that of my community."

In addition to her novels and short stories, Divakaruni has published four other volumes of poetry, including the Award-winning Leaving Yuba City, which includes a story, awarded a Pushcart Prize, and a story which won an Allen Ginsberg Prize. Arranged Marriage was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for Fiction, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The Mistress of Spices was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (England) and chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best books of 1997.

Unlike many of the heroines in her works, Divakaruni chose her own husband, and she praises his support for the work she does. They have two children.

Suggested Reading

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart; Vikram Chandra, Love and Longing in Bombay; Pang-Me Natasha Chang, Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir; Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street; Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory; Anita Desai, In Custody; Kiran Desaï, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard; Louise Erdrich, Tracks; Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate; E. M. Forster, A Passage to India; Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude; Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior; Toni Morrison, Beloved; Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine; V. S. Naipaul, A Wounded Civilization; R. K. Narayan, The World of Nagaraj; Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things; Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican and Almost a Woman; Julie Shigekuni, A Bridge Between Us; Alice Walker, The Color Purple.
 
Back to Top