Late afternoon in an Indian visa office in an unnamed American city. Most customers have come and gone, but nine people remain. A punky teenager with an unexpected gift. An upper class Caucasian couple whose relationship is disintegrating. A young Muslim-American man struggling with the fallout of 9/11. A graduate student haunted by a question about love. An African-American ex-soldier searching for redemption. A Chinese grandmother with a secret past. And two visa office workers on the verge of an adulterous affair.
When an earthquake rips through the afternoon lull, trapping these nine wildly individual characters together, their focus first jolts to a collective struggle to survive. There’s little food. The office begins to flood. Then, at a moment when the psychological and emotional stress seems nearly too much for them to bear, the young graduate student suggests that each tell a personal tale, “one amazing thing” from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. As their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself. One Amazing Thing is a passionate creation about survival—and about the reasons to survive.
We've all been there, sitting for hours on end, in the passport office, in a jury pool or at the D.M.V., looking around you, wondering about the guy or gal in front (or behind) of you. At the end of the day, you'll likely leave never knowing who those people are, never connecting because you've been engaged in some sort of singular activity as you pass the time away. That's the reason, I was intrigued
by this premise. The truth is, even though this is a novel, it felt more like a book of short stories, nine different stories, each varied in style and tone with the single connective thread being their survival through an earthquake and a hope of rescue. At the start of the novel, each character is barely sketched out, in an almost stereotypical way. I assume this was somewhat deliberate on the author's part, because we see each character as they are viewed by the others at first. As each story is told and secrets are revealed, understanding dawns on us as well as the characters and the stereotypes fall away.
While, this is a short book and an easy read, it is also well-written and compelling. Each story stays with you, for different reasons. The story feels uneven in some places and I am not sure I got all the answers I was looking for. Still, worthwhile read.
Final Take: 3.5/5