The Mistress of Spices, (1997), set in contemporary Oakland, California, is a novel by Indian American writer and University of Houston Creative Writing Program’s professor Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Its about magic, sensual pleasure, and yes drama. The plot of the story goes as such: Tilo, an ostensible character, is, a young woman, who is a shopkeeper of Indian origin as she is born there. She is born in another time in a faraway place. Her main skills is in knowing the art of spices, as she is trained in the ancient art of spices.
But she is also trained in magic, and helps customers to satisfy their needs and desires with the mystical properties of spices. Although it is her duty to remain emotionally detached, Tilo breaks the rules of the spices and is drawn into the lives of the customers in her shop, helping them through their spirals of trouble: abusive husbands, racism, generational conflicts, drug abuse. Hence, she is recognized as a mistress with special powers. Once fully initiated in a rite of fire, the now immortal Tilo–in the gnarled and arthritic body of an old woman–travels through time to Oakland, California, where she opens a shop from which she administers spices as curatives to her customers.
Her life changes when she falls for an American man named Raven, whom the book strongly implies as a Native American. An unexpected romance with a handsome stranger eventually forces her to choose between the supernatural life of an immortal and the vicissitudes of modern life. Unfortunately, she chooses to disregard the rules of her training in her pursuit of romance and her decision to seek out customers outside her shop, which results in the spices inflicting punishment on her and those she cares about. To save Raven from being another victim of the spices’ powerful magic, she decides to leave him after one last night where they make love. Afterwards, she accepts the punishment for disregarding the rules of her training, which results in the store being destroyed in an earthquake. She survives, and she and Raven reconcile and decide to help rebuild the city.
The Mistress of Spices is a tale of joy and sorrow and one special woman’s magical powers. The film The Mistress of Spices, based on the novel, was released in 2005. It is directed by Paul Mayeda Berges, with a script by Berges and his wife, British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha. The film stars Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, born in India, is an award-winning poet who teaches creative writing at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, where she also serves as president of MAITRI, a helpline for South Asian women. In 1995 her short story collection Arranged Marriage was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for Fiction, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Her fourth poetry collection, Leaving Yuba City, was published by Anchor in August 1997.
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