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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (1956-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1956, in Calcutta, India; Education: Calcutta University, B.A., 1976; Wright State University, M.A., 1978; University of California—Berkeley, Ph.D., 1985.


Office—Foothill College, English Department, 12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos, CA 94022-4504.


Diablo Valley College, professor of creative writing, 1987-89; Foothill College, Los Altos, CA, professor of creative writing, 1989—. Mid-Peninsula Support Network for Battered Women, 1990—; President, MAITRI (help-line for South Asian women), 1991—.

Honors Awards

Memorial Award, Barbara Deming Foundation, 1989; Writing Award, Santa Clara County Arts Council, 1990; Writing Award, Gerbode Foundation, 1993; Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction; PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for Fiction; Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and Pushcart Prize, both for Leaving Yuba City; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1996, for Arranged Marriage: Stories; California Arts Council Award, 1998; The Mistress of Spices was named a best book of 1997 by the Los Angeles Times and a best paperback of 1998 by the Seattle Times.



Neela, Victory Song ("Girls of Many Lands" series), illustrated by Troy Howell, American Girl (Middleton, WI), 2002.

The Conch Bearer (juvenile), Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.


Dark like the River (poems), Writers Workshop [India], 1987.

The Reason for Nasturtiums (poems), Berkeley Poets Press (Berkeley, CA), 1990.

Black Candle: Poems about Women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Calyx Books (Corvallis, OR), 1991.

(Editor) Multitude: Cross-cultural Readings for Writers, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1993.

Arranged Marriage: Stories, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1995.

The Mistress of Spices (novel), Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor) We, Too, Sing America, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1998.

Sister of My Heart (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives: Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

The Vine of Desire (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

Queen of Dreams (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with James Quay and William E. Justice) California Covered: Stories for the Twenty-first Century, Heyday Books (Berkeley, CA), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Ms., Beloit Poetry Journal, Chicago Review, Zyzzyva, and Chelsea.


The Mistress of Spices was adapted as an audiobook.


Poet, novelist, and short-story writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is known for her portrayals of immigrant Indian women. When Divakaruni, who was born in India, immigrated to the United States in 1976, she re-evaluated In Divakaruni's 2002 novel a twelve-year-old Indian girl becomes caught up in the country's 1939 move toward political independence, and a chance meeting with a young freedom fighter helps her to break free of tradition. (Cover illustration by Troy Howell.) the role of Indian women. She draws on her own experiences and those of other immigrant Indian women to write novels and verse, including the award-winning Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems, Arranged Marriage, a collection of short stories, and The Mistress of Spices, a novel. Divakaruni has also published two works for middle-grade readers: Neela, Victory Song and The Conch Bearer.

The Mistress of Spices revolves around an Indian girl with magical powers. After Tilo survives a shipwreck and is trained by a mysterious figure, she is sent through transmigration to act as the Mistress of Spices in an Indian store in Oakland, California. When Tilo falls in love with an Indian American, she must choose between her magic and a more mundane life. The novel garnered glowing reviews for the author's lyrical style, its combination of fantasy and realism, and its portrayal of the immigrant experience that goes beyond the stereotypical. "Divakaruni has written an unusual, clever and often exquisite first novel that stirs magical realism into the new conventions of culinary fiction and the still-simmering caldron of Indian immigrant life in America," observed Shashi Tharoor in the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Divakaruni's second novel, Sister of My Heart, is a realistic treatment of the relationship between two cousins, Sudha and Anju, who narrate alternating chapters of this modern drama that develops over decades. Divakaruni returns to the lives of Sudha and Anju in The Vine of Desire. In this sequel, Sudha comes to live with Anju after leaving her abusive husband. According to a Publishers Weekly critic, the author's "lyrical descriptions of the characters' inner and outer worlds bring a rich emotional chiaroscuro to an uplifting story about two women who learn to make peace with the difficult choices circumstances have forced upon them."

Neela, Victory Song, part of the "Girls of Many Lands" series, is set during the struggle for Indian independence, and centers on the adventures of a twelve-year-old girl whose father becomes involved in that struggle. When her father fails to return home after attending a protest march, Neela disguises herself as a boy, travels alone to Calcutta, and, with the help of an underground freedom fighter, hatches a plan to rescue her father from the government prison where he is being held. The author "turns a rare subject in children's literature into a well-paced, gripping story that captures universal emotions as well as the complexity of Neela's choices," observed Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg. Sarah Stone, reviewing the book on the Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color Web site, stated that "Victory Song not only educates young readers about India's culture and past but also manages to entertain brilliantly with a likeable main character and a suspenseful plot that keep young readers interested."

Divakaruni penned another book aimed at young audiences the following year. The Conch Bearer is a fantasy in which twelve-year-old Anand must return a magical conch shell to the distant Himalayas from which it came. Accompanied by Abhaydatta, a mystic healer, and Nisha, a street sweeper, Anand undertakes the dangerous journey, all the while pursued by the villainous Surabhanu. "This quest adventure has an exotic flavor," wrote Kathleen Isaacs in School Library Journal, noting the "magical background from traditional Indian tales, and deliciously detailed description of Indian foods." According to Horn Book critic Susan P. Bloom, "at the end of their perilous adventures Anand is faced with a poignant decision that will both deeply sadden and cheer readers."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Amerasia Journal, Volume 22, 1996, pp. 249-250.

Black Issues in Higher Education, September 18, 1997, p. 26.

Bloomsbury Review, September, 1992, p. 19.

Book, January-February, 2002, Chris Barsanti, review of The Vine of Desire, p. 76.

Booklist, December 15, 1991, p. 745; July, 1995, pp. 1860, 1869; December 15, 1996, p. 692; August, 1997, p. 1871; November 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Neela, Victory Song, p. 597; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 236; April 1, 2004, Brian Wilson, review of The Conch Bearer (audiobook), p. 1392.

Childhood Education, mid-summer, 2004, Smita Guha, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 273.

English Journal, September, 1997, pp. 99-100.

Horn Book, January-February, 2004, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 81.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1995, p. 898; December 15, 1996, p. 1753; August 15, 2003, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 1071.

Kliatt, July, 1997, p. 49; September, 1997, p. 5.

Library Journal, June 15, 1995, p. 97; December, 1995, p. 192; February 1, 1997, p. 105; May 15, 1997, p. 118; July, 1997, p. 102; October 1, 1997, p. 86; January, 1999, p. 147; December, 2001, Robert E. Brown, review of The Vine of Desire, p. 170.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 9, 1997, p. 10; December 14, 1997, p. 5.

Ms., July, 1995, p. 77.

New York, June 23, 1997, p. 164.

New York Times Book Review, July 16, 1995, p. 53; April 13, 1997, p. 20; March 1, 1998, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1995, p. 53; April 29, 1996, p. 69; January 13, 1997, pp. 51-52; August 25, 1997, p. 68; November 89, 1998, p. 55; May 14, 2001, Roxane Farmanfarmaian, "Writing from a Different Place," p. 46; November 26, 2001, review of The Vine of Desire, p. 38; August 18, 2003, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 80; December 15, 2003, review of The Conch Bearer (audiobook), p. 29; August 9, 2004, Bridget Kinsella, "Being American in Today's World," p. 229.

School Library Journal, December, 1995, p. 142; December, 2002, Alison Follos, review of Neela, Victory Song, p. 136; December, 2003, Kathleen Isaacs, review of The Conch Bearer, p. 149; May, 2004, Jane P. Fenn, review of The Conch Bearer (audiobook), p. 91.

Times Literary Supplement, March 21, 1997, p. 24.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 25, 1997, pp. 1, 9.

Washington Post Book World, December 15, 1996, p. 4.

Woman's Journal, February, 1997, p. 16.

World Literature Today, winter, 1998, p. 207; winter, 2002, Frederick Luis Aldama, review of The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, pp. 112-113.


About Women Writers Web site, http://womanwriters.about.com/ (April 29, 2003), review of The Vine of Desire.

AsianWeek Online, http://www.asianweek.com/ (April 27, 2001), Neela Banerjee, "Mistress of Self"; (April 27, 2001) Grace Talusan, "Wherever You Go, There You Are."

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Home Page, http://chitradivakaruni.com (February 18, 2004).

Time Online, http://www.time.com/ (April 29, 2003), "One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni."

Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (April 29, 2003), "Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni"; Sarah Stone, review of Neela, Victory Song. *

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