cover image Mistress/Spices Ppk

Mistress/Spices Ppk

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Doubleday Books, $183.6 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48789-4

Carving a fresh niche in the genre of literary romance, Divakaruni, author of the praised short-story collection Arranged Marriage (1995), has written an ambitious first novel that injects magic and mysticism into a contemporary urban setting. The narrator, born in India with supernatural gifts, has learned the secret powers of spices. Upon taking her vows as a Mistress of Spices, Tilo is granted immortality on several conditions, one being that she must never succumb to carnal desires. Emerging from a ritual fire, Tilo is transformed into an old, ugly woman, the proprietor of a spice store in a seedy area of Oakland, Calif. Because she can see into the minds and hearts of her customers, Tilo is able to recommended spices that can help them surmount their sorrows and fulfill their hopes. (Divakaruni's poetic descriptions of a myriad array of spices are a fascinating mixture of superstition and homeopathic medicine.) But when handsome Raven walks into her store, Tilo immediately falls in love with him. Suddenly vulnerable, she decides to transform herself into a young woman in order to enjoy a night of love with Raven. Divakaruni writes lush prose with which she infuses the mundane with magic. Like Bharati Mukherjee, she perceptively depicts a cross-section of the Indian immigrant community trapped between traditional values and the American dream. Unfortunately, the love story a variant of the frog prince myth in which the frog is TiloDis fatally undermined by the character of Raven, who is a stick figure constructed around a plot device. His immediate attraction to the elderly Tilo is never credible, and the dialogue he speaks is so artificial it can make one cringe. Major ad/promo; excerpt in D magazine; author tour. (Mar.)