Issue #214: Durga Sweets by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

214-coverA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an editorial intern working at The Atlantic Monthly. One of the big perks of the job was the giant pile of galleys (also known as ARCs—Advanced Reading Copies) that the assistants and interns were allowed to peruse and take home, once the editors had finished reviewing them. It didn’t matter that these were little more than loosely-bound manuscripts. They were FREE BOOKS and very exciting to an avid reader like me, who spent any extra money from my paycheck at bookstores. Galleys gave us a special “sneak peek” into a book six or eight months before it was published, and I discovered that it was thrilling to read a novel or memoir before anyone else had turned its pages. One of the very first galleys I chose from the Atlantic’s pile was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s unforgettable collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. I have strong memories of reading those enchanting tales, and so, now, many years later, when a NEW galley of Divakaruni’s work passed my desk, I jumped at the chance to publish her in One Story. Set in India, “Durga Sweets” skips from moment to moment, telling the story of a relationship backwards in time. Together with the delightful bachelor Bipin Bihari and the savvy sweet shop owner Sabitri, we travel from their final parting towards the unforgettable moment when these characters first meet. Woven between these many years is a deep unrequited love, as well as marvelous confections of mango, cardamom, and saffron, created by Sabitri at her shop, Durga Sweets. Read our Q&A with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, where she discusses how she wrote this lovely story, and shares a special recipe for Sandesh! In the meantime, I hope you will all enjoy this moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, and consider this issue of One Story your own personal “galley” to Divakaruni’s marvelous forthcoming novel-in-stories, Before We Visit the Goddess.

3 thoughts on “Issue #214: Durga Sweets by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

  1. I read this story when I was eating lunch at a restaurant today and ended up ordering an unplanned dessert because I couldn’t bear to stop reading. Then all afternoon I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Now it’s evening and here I am. Thank you, thank you, for this.

  2. I read this story a the blizzard was pounding us outside in DC last night, and I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished. I’ll be looking into more of this very fine writer’s work…

  3. Just subscribed and don’t know if the purpose of comment is only to worship and adore. Sorry, I didn’t find this story satisfying…it keeps leading us back into the past, when we want to go into the future…I know that’s part of the novelty, or gimmick…though a gimmick that’s been used many times before in short fiction and movies (e.g. Pinter’s Betrayal)… And the meaning of the final revelation in the past, re: how Bibin and Sabitri first met is a bit confusing…Either Bibin is a fool, to fall in love with a woman’s image in a newspaper and sacrifice his whole romantic and professional future when his love is unrequited… or he is too cowardly to admit his “crush” to Sabitri when she calls his bluff, so he accepts the job for a trivial reason and doesn’t have the guts to get out of it. Either explanation does not make the character worth my attention, in a way…he squanders his life… no quarrel with the fine writing, details etc…but even the “romance” of food creation is something a bit overdone these days…I wasn’t convinced Durga Sweets was a swell place to spend time. Perhaps I’d like to at least see a moment where Bibin understands what he has lost, a la Checkov, instead of being so content with his martyrdom, … or maybe once the old gal is turned to ash on the boat, Bibin can go on to something more meaningful… maybe that’s in the novel. But this is presented as a short story and must stand on its own. I suspect at bottom this tale represents a woman’s fantasy: a man who is faithful, always adoring, loving, asking nothing in return, de-sexed, de-fanged, in a way…a eunuch, basically…hmmm….

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