Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Critical Overview

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The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, the story collection in which Divakaruni included ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter,’’ has received mixed reviews since it was published in 2001. Some, like Frederick Luis Aldama, praise the collection in its entirety. In his review of the collection for World Literature Today, Aldama says that the stories ‘‘lyrically describe and breathe life into the lives of South Asian characters.’’ Aldama also notes that these characters ‘‘struggle to discover freedom’’ in a male-dominated world that seeks to oppress them. Likewise in her Booklist review, Donna Seaman says that Divakaruni has ‘‘narrative elegance’’ and notes that each story ‘‘revolves around a reflective and strong-willed heroine.’’ Seaman thinks that the ‘‘hauntingly beautiful stories of epiphany and catharsis’’ have universal appeal and places Divakaruni ‘‘in the vanguard of fine literary writers.’’

Not everybody liked the collection, however. ‘‘Divakaruni’s stories can verge on melodrama,’’ says Sudip Bose, in the New York Times Book Review. Furthermore, Bose opines that ‘‘the immigrant experience, at least in the terms Divakaruni considers it, has been mined almost bare in contemporary fiction.’’ Because of this, Bose says that Divakaruni’s ‘‘reluctant immigrants, forever cursing their alienation, too often seem like characters we’ve met before.’’ However, other reviewers find fault with some of the stories but praise the collection as a whole. The Publishers Weekly reviewer notes that it ‘‘is a mixed collection.’’ Still, the reviewer says that it is worth a reader’s time, since many of the stories ‘‘illuminate the difficult adjustments of women in whom memory and duty must coexist with a new, often painful and disorienting set of standards.’’ This reviewer thinks that Divakaruni is ‘‘at her best’’ in tales like ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter.’’ The reviewer for Kirkus Reviews also feels that this story is ‘‘the best piece’’ in a collection that the reviewer calls ‘‘solid if unexceptional.’’ The reviewer says that ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter’’ is ‘‘a touching and simply expressed account of feeling hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar country.’’

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Essays and Criticism