Much of Divakaruni’s work deals with the immigrant experience, an important theme in the mosaic of American society. Her book Arranged Marriage, winner of an American Book Award, is a collection of short stories about women from India caught between two worlds. In The Mistress of Spices, named one of the best books of the 20th Century by the San Francisco Chronicle, the heroine Tilo provides spices, not only for cooking, but also for the homesickness and alienation that the Indian immigrants in her shop experience. In Sister of My Heart, two cousins—one in America, the other in India, share details of their lives with each other and help each other solve problems that threaten their marriages. In One Amazing Thing, a group of strangers of varied backgrounds, trapped by an earthquake in an Indian visa office, discover what they have in common as they struggle to save themselves. Divakaruni writes to unite people. Her aim is to destroy myths and stereotypes. She hopes through her writing to dissolve boundaries between people of different backgrounds, communities and ages.
Divakaruni’s writing often centers around the lives of immigrant women. She says, “Women in particular respond to my work because I’m writing about them: women in love, in difficulty, women in relationships. I want people to relate to my characters, to feel their joy and pain, because it will be harder to [be] prejudiced when they meet them in real life.” Her interest in women began after she left India, at which point she came to reevaluate the treatment of women there. At Berkeley, she volunteered at a women’s center and became interested in helping battered women. She then started Maitri with a group of friends, which eventually led her to write Arranged Marriage, a work that includes stories about the abuse and courage of immigrant women.
Before she began her career in writing fiction, Divakaruni was an acclaimed poet. She writes poems encompassing a wide variety of themes, and she once again directs much of her focus to the immigrant experience and to South Asian women. She shows the experiences and struggles involved in women trying to find their own identities. Poems from Divakaruni’s latest collection, Leaving Yuba City, won a Pushcart Prize, an Allen Ginsberg Prize and a Gerbode Foundation award.