Imagine being trapped in a Visa Office somewhere in America after a horrible earthquake. You know no one around you, and have to trust strangers as you realize that you might not ever be rescued from this dark and slowly flooding building.
In One Amazing Thing we meet nine strangers who have plans and dreams that reach far beyond the basement office they are presently trapped in. As these people prepare to get their travel documents for India we meet: a black man named Cameron who is a Vietnam veteran, a Chinese woman Jiang and her granddaughter Lily, a young Muslim man named Tariq who is struggling to find his place in the world after Sept. 11, 2001, an older couple Mr. and Mrs. Prichett whose marriage is strained, Uma a college girl whose parents live in India, the visa office manager Mangalam and his assistant Malathi. We learn each characters story and what brought them to the Visa Office as the story unfolds. All the while they are encased in the small basement office which is slowly flooding. As the stress and tension rises, Uma uses her recent reading of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as an inspiration. She suggests that each stranger tell one amazing thing that has happened in their lives. Their stories talk of childhood abuse, loss and unrequited love.
“Cameron switched off both flashlights. But in spite of the claustrophobic dark that fell on them, Uma sensed a new alertness in her companions, a shrugging off of things they couldn’t control. They were ready to listen to one another. No, they were ready to listen to the story, which is sometimes greater than the person who speaks it.” – One Amazing Thing, page 70
The book was an interesting and attention grabbing read. It was a page turner; I wanted to see what was happening to our characters and to hear their stories, their struggles and accomplishments. I liked how all this information gave me an understanding of their motives and fears. It was even interesting how the modern day prejudices played a role. We meet Cameron and see how some of the characters are afraid of him at first, solely because of his appearance. We also hear of how Tariq’s friends judge him for some of the things he says about Muslim’s after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
One of the more interesting parts of the storyline was how you got to jump inside the characters heads as you met each one and learn a little about them, and see what lead them to be at the Visa Office that day. However, some might find the storyline confusing or too much, partly because it does jump around a bit between the past and the present. In the end I believe this book uses a wonderful twist in the stories of each character to show people that you must look beyond the cover (even with strangers) to see the beauty that lies beneath, in this case the beauty that all should see in life.
“When had it happened? Looking back, I could not point to one special time and say, There! That’s what is amazing. We can change completely and not recognize it. We think terrible events have made us into stone. But love slips in like a chisel – and suddenly it is an ax, breaking us into pieces from the inside.” –One Amazing Thing, page 90