Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • The Vine of Desire
  • Written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385497305
  • Our Price: $14.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - The Vine of Desire

Buy now from Random House

See more online stores - The Vine of Desire

The Vine of Desire

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

A Novel

Written by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

eBook

List Price: $11.99

eBook

On Sale: May 20, 2003
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-4000-7581-2
Published by : Anchor Knopf
The Vine of Desire Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - The Vine of Desire
  • Email this page - The Vine of Desire
  • Print this page - The Vine of Desire
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Categories for this book
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
fiction (39) india (31) immigrants (8) friendship (6) novel (5) women (4) love (4) cousins (4)
fiction (39) india (31) immigrants (8) friendship (6) novel (5)
» see more tags
women (4) love (4) cousins (4)
» hide
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The beloved characters of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s bestselling novel Sister of My Heart are reunited in this powerful narrative that challenges the emotional bond between two lifelong friends, as the husband of one becomes dangerously attracted to the other.
Anju and Sudha formed an astounding, almost psychic connection during their childhood in India. When Anju invites Sudha, a single mother in Calcutta, to come live with her and her husband, Sunil, in California, Sudha foolishly accepts, knowing full well that Sunil has long desired her. As Sunil’s attraction rises to the surface, the trio must struggle to make sense of the freedoms of America–and of the ties that bind them to India and to one another.

Excerpt

One

The day Sudha stepped off the plane from India into Anju's arms, leaving a ruined marriage behind, their lives changed forever. And not just Sudha's and Anju's. Sunil's life changed, too. And baby Dayita's. Like invisible sound waves that ripple out and out, the changes reached all the way to India, to Ashok waiting on his balcony for the wind to turn. To their mothers in the neat squareness of their flat, upsetting the balance of their household, causing the mango pickles to turn too-sour and the guava tree in the backyard to grow extra-large pink guavas. The changes multiplied the way vines might in a magical tale, their tendrils reaching for people whose names Sudha and Anju did not even know yet.

Were the changes good or bad?

Can we use such simple, childish terms in asking this question? Neither of the cousins were simple women, though there was much that was childlike about them when they were together alone, or with Dayita. When Sunil was away.

Sunil. Anju's husband. Sudha's cousin-in-law. A young executive with a bright future in a prestigious computer company. But no. None of this tells us who he really is. Because he wasn't a simple man either.

It is not clear when Anju first sensed this. At their double wedding, when she stood beside Sunil, their bridal garments knotted, and watched him watch Sudha's forehead being marked with the red powder of wifehood? Months back, when he told Anju that it was a bad idea to bring her cousin to America? The night before Sudha's arrival, by which time it was too late? When did she first sense that though she loved him, she didn't always trust him?

But lately Anju doesn't trust the runaway roller-coaster of her own emotions either. The wild mood-swings after the miscarriage that would leave her weeping or laughing hysterically. The long bouts of depression, later, that immobilized her in bed, incapable of even answering the phone.

Guilt ate at her, a slow, pernicious rust. No matter how often Sunil assured her that the miscarriage could have been caused by any number of things, she didn't believe him. When the blackness came upon her, her mind turned heavy and stubborn, like one of those cement mixing trucks you pass sometimes on the road. A sentence would catch in it and begin to rotate, If only I'd listened to the doctor and not overworked myself, until it broke down into a phrase, If only I hadn't, If only I hadn't. It ended, always, in the same anguished chant. Prem Prem Prem.

She would rock her body from side to side, her neglected, will-o-the-wisp hair spreading its static on the sofa, fingers digging rigidly into her arms until they left bruises shaped like tiny petals.

"I don't know how to help you when you're like this," Sunil would say.

Afterwards, when the depression lifted, she would sometimes say, "You don't need to do anything."

Inside her head she added, Except love me.

Inside her head he replied, I do love you.

Inside her head she said, But not enough.

The night before Sudha arrives, Anju cannot sit still. Some of it is excitement, but mostly she is nervous. Why? Isn't this her dear, dear cousin, sister of her heart? They've protected, advised, cajoled, bullied, and stood up for each other all their lives. Each has been madly jealous of the other at some point. Each has enraged the other, or made her weep. Each has been willing to give up her happiness for her cousin. In short: they've loved each other the way they've never loved anyone else. Why then does Sudha's coming fill Anju with this unexpected dread?

If there are answers, she will not allow herself to think of them.

At dinner she is unable to eat. "But what if Sudha doesn't like it here?" she keeps saying.

It is the year of dangerous movements. Two weeks back, a major earthquake hit Los Angeles, causing $7 billion in damage and leaving over 10,000 people homeless. Will Anju and Sunil read this as an omen? Or will they discount it in the belief that every year has its own disasters?

Anju, who is a terrible cook, has spent the day making lasagna because, she says, Sudha has never tasted any in India. The sink and their few dishtowels are all dyed the same stunning orange, a color which looks fearfully permanent.

Sunil doesn't comment on this. He focuses instead on the gluey orange mass on his plate, at which he jabs half-heartedly from time to time. He is a meticulous man, a man who detests chaos. Who takes satisfaction each evening in shining his shoes with a clean rag and a tin of Esquire Boot Polish before putting them away on the closet shelf. But he makes an effort today and says nothing--both about the lasagna and about Anju's question, which is not so much a question as a lament for something she fears has happened already. He is thinking of what she said a few weeks back, unthinkingly. The happiest memories of my life are of growing up with Sudha. He is thinking of what he didn't say to her.

What about me, then? What about you and me?

"Let me tell you," Sudha was fond of saying in the last months of her pregnancy, "who I used to be before the accident of America happened to me."

She would be lounging in bed with a cup of hot milk and honey and a novel, one of those rare days when she didn't have to go to class. She would knock on the curve of her stomach. "You, sir," she would say. "I hope you're paying attention."

She loved speaking to Prem. In an illogical way, it was more satisfying than speaking to Sunil, even though Sunil was a careful listener and made the right comments at the right times. But Prem--the way he grew still at the sound of her voice, the way he butted her ribs with his head if she paused too long in the middle of a story--

She told Prem about the old house, that white elephant of a mansion that had been in the Chatterjee family for generations: its crumbling marble facade, its peeling walls, the dark knots of its corridors, the brick terrace where she and Sudha went secretly at night to watch for falling stars to wish on.

"It's gone now. Demolished to make space for a high-rise apartment building. And I'm the one who kept at your grandmothers--do you know you have three grandmothers: my mom, Sudha's mom, and Pishi, who's my dad's sister?--to sell it. I used to hate that house, how ancient it was, how it stood for everything ancient. I hated being cooped up in it and not allowed to go anywhere except school. But now I miss it! I think of my room with its cool, high ceilings, and my bedsheets which always smelled clean, like neem leaves--and which I never had to wash myself!--and the hundred year old peepal trees that grew outside my windows. Sometimes I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry to come to America. Sudha used to sneak into my room at night sometimes. We'd sit on the wide windowsill, telling each other stories. I'd tell her about characters in books I'd read that I liked, such as Jo in Little Women--and she'd tell me the folk-tales she'd heard from Pishi about women who would turn into demonesses at night and the monkey who was actually a bewitched prince. She was great at doing voices! You'll see it for yourself when she gets here."

Some days, after the doctor had scolded her for not getting enough exercise, Anju went to the park. She would make a desultory round of the play area, watching the children, whispering to Prem that he'd be better than them all--more handsome, more active, and of course more intelligent. She would tell him how prettily the maples were changing color and then, choosing one to sit under, she would go back to her childhood.

"My favorite place of all was the family bookstore. For the longest time all I wanted was to be allowed to run it when I grew up. Every weekend I'd beg mother to take me there. I loved its smell of new paper and printing ink, its rows and rows of books all the way to the ceiling, its little ladders that the clerks would scramble up when a customer wanted something that was stored on a high shelf. There was a special corner with an armchair, just for me, so I could sit and read all I wanted. It was funny, Gouri-Ma--that's my mom--was strict about a lot of things, but she never stopped me from reading anything I wanted.

"So in my teenage years, I read things like Anna Karennina and Sons and Lovers and The Great Gatsby and A Room of One's Own. I'm glad I did, but maybe Aunt Nalini--that's Sudha's mom--was right. They were no good for me. They filled me with a dissatisfaction with my own life, and a longing for distant places. I believed that, if I could only get out of Calcutta to one of those exotic countries I read about, it would transform me. But transformation isn't so easy, is it?"

What about the other places of her growing-up years? The ones she never spoke of, the ones you'd have to eavesdrop among her dreams to find? Such as: the banquet hall where she saw her new husband stoop to pick up a woman's handkerchief that was not hers? But the rest of that scene is brittle and brown and unreadable, like the edge of a paper held to a flame, another of those memories Anju keeps hostage in the darkest cells of her mind.

"The bookstore was where I met your father. He had come dressed in an old-fashioned kurta and gold-rimmed glasses--a kind of disguise so that I wouldn't guess that he was the computer whiz from America with whom Gouri Ma was trying to arrange my marriage."

"He'd come to check me out! Can you imagine! People just didn't do such things in Calcutta, at least not in traditional families like mine. When he confessed who he was, I was terribly impressed. But what made me fall in crazy love with him was that he bought a whole set of the novels of Virginia Woolf. She used to be my favorite author, you know. But he'd done it only to win me over." She sighed. "Later I couldn't get him to read even one of them!"

"Still--he's going to be a wonderful father to you. I'm sure of that. He'll love you more than anyone else does--except of course me and your Sudha-aunty!"

This evening, her dinner uneaten, Anju pushes back her chair and walks over to the old, discolored mirror that hangs in the small bathroom in the passage. She runs an uncertain hand through her hair and touches the dark circles under her eyes. She presses down on her jagged cheekbones--she's lost a lot of weight since the miscarriage--as though she could push them in and hide them. "God, I look like such a witch!" she groans.

Last week she opened her India suitcase and took out a framed picture of herself and Sudha at their school graduation dinner. She examined it for a long moment before setting it on her dresser with a dissatisfied thunk. Even at that heedlessly happy time in her life, she hadn't been pretty in the traditional way. She didn't have her cousin's rush of curly hair, or those wide, sooty eyes which always looked a little mysterious, a little tragic. But anyone could see (anyone except herself, that is) that she had spirit. In the photo, she stares out, a challenge in her eyes. She crooks her lean, stubborn mouth in a half-smile. There's an irrepressible intelligence to her nose. Maybe that was what made Sunil choose her from among all the girls he could have had as an eminently eligible, foreign-returned, computer-whiz groom in Calcutta.

But somewhere along the way Anju's eyes grew dull and muddy. Her mouth learned to twitch. And the expression on Sunil's face when he watches her nowadays--he does this in bed, sometimes, after she has fallen asleep--is complicated. At times it is pity. At times, regret.

All through the fall of her pregnancy, while the leaves of the maple turned a crisper, brittler red until they were suddenly gone, Anju told Prem stories of Sudha. Beautiful Sudha, the dreamer, the best cook of them all, the magic-fingered girl who could embroider clothes fit for a queen. Luckless Sudha who worked so hard at being the perfect wife to Ramesh even though she didn't love him. Until the day she walked out of the marriage.

"It was because of her witch of a mother-in-law. For years she'd been harassing Sudha because she couldn't get pregnant. You'd think she'd be delighted when she found out that Sudha was having a baby. But no. She had to have an ultrasound done, and when she discovered that her first grandchild was going to be a girl, she insisted that Sudha should have an abortion. So Sudha ran away--how else could she save her daughter--though she knew they'd make her life hell afterwards.

"Oh, that old crocodile! How I wish I could have seen her when she woke up to find Sudha gone!"

For weeks afterwards, Anju would describe that afternoon for Prem, over and over, in the hushed tone one saves for legends.

The entire household has fallen into a stunned sleep, even the servants. The heavy front door, which is carved with fierce yakshas wielding swords, opens without a sound. Sudha slips out, carrying only a small handbag. She wears her cotton house-sari and forces herself not to hurry so passers-by will not be suspicious. The air inside her chest is viscous with fear. Her slippers slide on the gravelly road. Mango leaves hang dispiritedly in the heat, like small, tired hands. She walks carefully, she mustn't fall, she presses her hand against a belly that will start to show in a few weeks. At the crossroads she pulls the end of her sari over her head in a veil, a princess disguised as a servant-maid, so no one on the street will recognize her.

"What about Ramesh?" Sunil asked when Anju told him Sudha had gone back to her mother.

"What about him?" Anju said, her voice dangerously tight.

"Didn't he try to bring her back?"

"Him! That spineless jellyfish! That Momma's boy!" Anju's breath came in outraged puffs. "He did nothing--nothing he should have done, that is."


From the Hardcover edition.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni|Author Q&A

About Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - The Vine of Desire
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the bestselling novels Queen of Dreams, Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, and The Vine of Desire, and of the prizewinning story collections Arranged Marriage and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives. She lives in Houston, Texas, and teaches creative writing at the University of Houston.

Author Q&A

Q: In THE VINE OF DESIRE, Sudha and Anju, the India-born heroines of your second novel, SISTER OF MY HEART, are reunited in San Francisco. American society offers opportunity as well as confusion and pain to both women, and soon the foundation of their long-standing friendship is shaken in complex and perhaps irreversible ways. Is their experience a parable for the pitfalls and promise inherent in the immigrant experience for Indian women?

A:
It is and it isn’t. What happens to the two cousins is individual to their particular situation, of course, and influenced by their pasts, their personalities, and the tension in their household, where Anju’s husband is secretly in love with Sudha. But the ways in which they experience America—Anju finding a space for growth through returning to college and Sudha feeling frustrated because the opportunities of America seem out of her reach—are certainly similar to the experience of many immigrants.

Q: What was it like to revisit the story of Anju and Sudha? Did you find writing a sequel different from writing a “stand alone” novel?

A:
Because I came back to it after some years, I found The Vine of Desire a very different story. I had changed—and so had the characters. We’d all been influenced by what had happened in our lives! So this is a very different kind of book, I feel, in texture and tone. For one thing, the narrative technique is different. There are two male narrators here; part of the book is formed out of the college assignments Anju is writing. Part is dictated onto a cassette by her husband Sunil. Sudha’s voice has changed, too—grown at once more fragmented and more introspective, as a result of the traumas she has undergone. There is also an omniscient narrative voice. Much of the challenge in writing this novel was to make it a complete whole in itself as well as a continuation of an earlier story.

Q: Many of your readers have asked if you will write another book about Tilo, the beloved heroine of THE MISTRESS OF SPICES. Will you write about her again?

A:
I do love Tilo! Who knows? Maybe she’ll come back to me again, and we’ll have another adventure together!

Q: You’ve lived in the United States for more than twenty years. What parts of your Indian heritage do you actively preserve? Are there traditions that you've purposefully discarded? What effect, if any, do the kept and lost customs have on your writing process?

A:
The Indian notion of the importance of family has grown more dear to me as I’ve lived in America—perhaps because here I have to make a greater effort to stay in touch with family and interact with them in meaningful ways. But it has also made me realize that I have many families, not just my biological/marital one. The volunteers I work with at Maitri, the hotline for South Asian women in distress, form one of my families. The members of the Chinmaya Mission, the spiritual/cultural organization I also volunteer with, are a significant and loving family for me. I have a family of close women friends. I think living in America has given me this expanded notion of family. On the other hand, I’ve given up a lot of traditional notions about the place of the woman in the home, and what is not okay for her to do. I really believe in women making their own choices, standing up for their own beliefs, fighting for them when they have to. And this has certainly influenced my writing.

Q: You’ve mentioned influences on your work as diverse as Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Raymond Carver, and contemporaries Bharati Mukherjee and Anita Desai. If someone were to take THE VINE OF DESIRE on vacation to read and wanted a book to read immediately afterward as a “companion piece,” what book would you suggest and why?

A:
I think a good companion piece would be Cristina García’s The Agüero Sisters. It’s a very different book, but also about sisterhood, desire, and balancing passion with virtue. It’s a wonderfully written book, magical in nature, one of my favorites.

Q: What are you working on now? Eager readers want to know!

A:
I’m working on two book ideas side by side, a novel and a nonfiction book. I don’t want to say too much—that dissipates the energy that needs to go into the writing. But I do want to say that I’m very excited about both of them. Some of the themes they deal with are memory, magic, and dreams.

Praise

Praise

“An engrossing and satisfying novel.” –The Washington Post

“Divakaruni is gifted with dramatic inventiveness [and] lyric, sensual language. . . . The Vine of Desire offers many delights.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Divakaruni is an incomparable storyteller. . . . the beauty of her talent is her ability to capture the true complexity of the emotional landscape in her characters. . . . A lovely read.” –The Denver Post

“Incandescent. . . . Abounds with vibrant images.” –Houston Chronicle

“Grab The Vine of Desire. Divakaruni is a transplanted cultural treasure [and] a brilliant storyteller.” –The Seattle Times

“As gracefully structured as a piece of chamber music.” –San José Mercury News

“Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni fills a space all her own. . . . Her fiction draws a line straight to the heart.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Divakaruni. . . . paints worlds of complex characters and cultures with an absorbing story line and beautiful language that reads like poetry.” –The Oregonian

“Compassionate. . . . Provid[es] with graceful economy a complex backdrop of contemporary Indian society.” –The Boston Sunday Globe

“Dazzling and powerful. . . . Divakaruni’s descriptions, as always, possess a fine lyrical beauty. . . . Readers . . . will have much to feast on.” –The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Moving, passionate. . . . A beautiful, imperfect journey, much like life itself, and one well worth taking.” –Austin American-Statesman

“[An] exquisitely rendered tale of passion, jealousy, and redemption. . . . Divakaruni combines a gift for absorbing narrative with the artistry of a painter.” –Publishers Weekly

“A potent, emotional book delivered by a writer who knows when to step back and take in the poetry.” –Book

“Compelling. . . . Divakaruni writes prose that is lush. . . . [She] excels at depicting the nuances of the immigrant experience.” –SF Weekly
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“An engrossing and satisfying novel.” —The Washington Post

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s poignant new novel, The Vine of Desire. This potent, richly textured work by an award-winning writer adroitly explores the fragility of love and of friendship, the agonizing cruelty of temptation, and the struggle for ordinary people to carve a life for themselves in the world.

About the Guide

The Vine of Desire picks up where Divakaruni’s bestselling novel, Sister of My Heart, left off, continuing the saga of Anju and Sudha, the now-grown cousins and best friends from Calcutta, India. After their joint arranged marriages in Calcutta, the spirited and independent Anju had followed her husband, Sunil, to San Francisco, while the beautiful Sudha had remained behind in India with her husband. For the first decade of their married lives, the two women followed individual paths, but personal tragedies—Anju’s miscarriage and Sudha’s divorce—result in their long-awaited reunion in America. When The Vine of Desire begins, Sudha and her newborn daughter are on their way to San Francisco where they will live with Sunil and Anju. Anju hopes to help Sudha start a new life in America, away from the stigma of divorce, and Sudha hopes to help her dear friend overcome the pain of losing her baby. At first, the women are overjoyed to see one another, and their bond seems strong enough to suggest that each woman’s unselfish goal is possible. But Anju’s startling realization of her husband’s passionate obsession with Sudha shatters any illusions and causes a seemingly irreparable rift between the two friends. Tormented respectively by guilt and bitter jealousy, Sudha and Anju must individually grapple with both their inner pain and the outside pressures of frenetic, impersonal city life in America as they journey toward independence. Ultimately, the women are forced to look beyond the destructive circle of love, passion, and hurt and form a new relationship as the antidote to their suffering. Only then are they able to find a way to reconcile their ties to the past and to resolve their friendship.

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.

Discussion Guides

1. Anju tells her unborn son, Prem, stories of who she “used to be before the accident of America happened to [her]” [p. 12]. What does she mean by “the accident of America?” How are Sudha’s and Anju’s assimilation into American culture affected by the different circumstances that lead them there in the first place? Why does Sudha choose to return to India, while for Anju the idea of returning to India does not even seem to cross her mind?

2. How is the process of assimilation different for Anju, Sunil, Lalit, Trideep, and Sudha? Why are some more successful than others? Do the characters identify as “Americans” or as “Indian-Americans?” What do incidents such as Sunil’s attacking the valet at the party for making derogatory comments about Indians [p. 138] and Anju’s sensitivity about the portrayal of Indians in the movies her schoolmates attend [pp. 213–4] demonstrate about their comfort with their place in America?

3. Divakaruni marks pivotal moments in each of the characters’ lives with references to significant current events. For example, while Anju anxiously anticipates Sudha’s arrival, Divakaruni writes: “It is the year of dangerous movements. Two weeks back, a major earthquake hit Los Angeles” [p. 11]. And, upon Sudha’s attending the party with Sunil and Anju, Divakaruni writes: “It is the year of taking risks, of facing consequences. In Bangledesh a woman writer criticizes the Quran and must go underground to escape the fatwa. In Abidjan a twenty-year ban against big-game hunting is lifted in the hope of attracting tourist money” [p. 127]. (See also pp. 97, 241, and 294) How do these global events inform the reader about the events taking place in the lives of the central characters? Placed in such a context, do the events in Anju’s and Sudha’s lives seem more or less significant? What does this global context signify about an individual’s relationship to the rest of the world? In what other ways does Divakaruni relate her characters’ private lives to the public world?

4. How do Sunil, Anju, and Sudha each interpret the O. J. Simpson trial in light of the events taking place in their personal lives? How might Anju or Sunil answer Sudha’s question: “What was the point of filling our head with their troubles?” [p. 111] How might Sudha answer her own question by the end of the novel?

5. One recurring theme is the difficulty the characters have in communicating with the people closest to them. What causes this inability to communicate? Of what might they be afraid? Should some things simply not be said? How effective are the other methods they use to communicate their feelings, such as Anju’s essays and letters or Sunil’s use of a movie plot to explain his feelings to Anju [pp. 234–6]? Is it easier for Sudha to communicate with strangers like Sara, Lalit, and Myra than with Sunil or Anju, and, if so, why?

6. Several characters in the novel experience emotional isolation. For example, Sudha thinks about the change in hers and Anju’s relationship: “Only now, in its loss, I know the value of what the two of us had. A metallic fog has wound itself around me. Is this how other people go through their lives? Hearing dimly, feeling less?” [p. 109] And, later, as Anju packs Sunil’s items in their old apartment she hears: “The newscaster announces another suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, a bus blown up this time, killing twenty-one and wounding forty-five. . . . Anju recognizes this as a tragedy far worse than what she is undergoing. . . . But her capacity for compassion has shrunk, somehow. Now she cannot relate to anything beyond the distraught confines of her own skin” [p. 300]. What causes this emotional isolation and can it be overcome? If so, how?

7. What mood is conveyed by the frequent references to the characters in conjunction with various modes of transportation, such as on the freeway [e.g., p. 123] or in an airport, [e.g., p. 294]? What do these images convey about life in San Francisco or in America? What do they relate or reflect about the characters’ emotions?

8. What are the different types of love explored in The Vine of Desire? What emotional and physical desires do the characters confront? Does love diverge from or intersect with these desires? Are these loves or desires within the individual’s control?

9. Is Sunil a sympathetic character? How might his behavior toward Sudha and Anju be characterized? Can he help his behavior? Does he pay for his actions? Are Sudha’s desires [see p. 335] understandable? Is Sudha really “immoral,” as she considers herself to be [p. 297]? What, if anything, should Sudha or Sunil have done differently? How does The Vine of Desire force the reader to reexamine his or her views on adultery, divorce, and marriage?

10. How does motherhood change Sudha’s life? And, conversely, how does not becoming a mother affect Anju’s life? Does Sunil’s paternal relationship with Dayita change him in any way?

11. How are families formed and how are they defined in the novel? Just as her mother had done in Calcutta, Anju accepts Sudha and Dayita into her home. Under what circumstances could Anju, Sunil, Sudha, and Dayita constitute a family? Why can’t the woman who saved Anju from suicide and with whom she shares a house ever really be a family to her [p. 302]? Could Sudha, the old man, and Dayita ever form a “family”?

12. Divakaruni employs a rich and original narrative style. She often switches the first-person narration between the voices of Sudha, Anju, and Sunil. She employs different devices to advance the plot and convey the inner thoughts of her characters, such as letters [e.g., pp. 71–6], unspoken dramatic subtext such as in the Lalit/Sudha conversations [e.g., pp. 181–5], and Anju’s stories [e.g., pp. 163–6]. Periodically, a third-person narrative voice intrudes on the fiction. For example, when Sunil is breaking up with Anju and he looks at the clock and thinks he will be late for work, the anonymous narrator asks, “Can we forgive him that glance, the way one forgives a nervous tic?” [p. 237] How is Divakaruni’s style effective in communicating the feelings of the characters and reinforcing the themes of the novel? Are her original methods more or less effective than more traditional methods of narration?

13. The opening quotation from “Late Fragment,” by Raymond Carver reads: “And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” What do Anju and Sudha want? How do these wants change or evolve from the opening page of the novel to its end?

14. Book Two is inscribed with a quotation from Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, as follows: “One day a story will arrive at your town. It will come from far away, from the southwest or the southeast—people won’t agree. The story will arrive with a stranger or perhaps with a parrot trader. But when you hear this story, you will know it is the signal.” To what in The Vine of Desire might the “story” refer, or symbolize? What might it be signaling?

Suggested Readings

Susan Minot, Rapture; Carole L. Glickfeld, Swimming Toward the Ocean; Sándor Márai, Embers; Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club; Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies: Stories; Meera Syal, Life Isn’t All Hee Hee Ha Ha; Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, Bound Feet and Western Dress; Bharati Mukherjee, Wife; Manil Suri, The Death of Vishnu; Kirin Narayan, Love, Stars, and All That; Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day; Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy; Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World; Shelby Hearon, Life Estates; Ha Jin, Waiting; Laura Fraser, An Italian Affair; Kent Haruf, Plainsong; Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery, Dear Exile; Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City.

  • The Vine of Desire by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • February 04, 2003
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Anchor
  • $14.95
  • 9780385497305

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: