Understanding Bharati Mukherjee
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2021 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Bharati Mukherjee was the first major South Asian American writer and the first naturalized American citizen to win the National Book Critics Circle Award. Born in Kolkata, India, she immigrated to the United States in 1961 and went on to publish eight novels, two short story collections, two long works of nonfiction, and numerous essays, book reviews, and newspaper articles. She was professor emerita in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley, until her death in 2017.

In Understanding Bharati Mukherjee, Ruth Maxey discusses Mukherjee's influence on younger South Asian American women writers, such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Divakaruni. Mukherjee's powerful writing also enjoyed popular appeal, with some novels achieving best-seller status and international acclaim; her 1989 novel Jasmine was translated into multiple languages. One of the earliest writers to feature South Asian Americans in literary form, Mukherjee reflected upon the influence of non-European immigrants to the United States, following passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system. Her vision of a globalized, interconnected world has been regarded as prophetic, and when Mukherjee died, diverse North American writers—Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje, Ann Beattie, Amy Tan, and Richard Ford—came forward to praise her work and its importance.

Understanding Bharati Mukherjee is the first book to examine this pioneering author's complete oeuvre and to identify its legacy. Maxey offers new insights into widely discussed texts and recuperates overlooked works, such as Mukherjee's first and last published short stories, her neglected nonfiction, and her many essays. Critically situating both well-known and under-discussed texts, this study analyzes the aesthetic and ideological complexity of Mukherjee's writing, considering her sophisticated, erudite, multilayered use of intertextuality, especially her debt to cinema. Maxey argues that understanding the range of formal and stylistic strategies in play is crucial to grasping Mukherjee's work.



Publié par
Date de parution 06 septembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 2
EAN13 9781643360010
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Matthew J. Bruccoli, Founding Editor
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
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Ruth Maxey
2019 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina 29208
28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at http://catalog.loc.gov/
ISBN 978-1-64336-000-3 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-64336-001-0 (ebook)
Front cover photograph Miriam Berkley www.miriamberkley.com
For Olly, one in 7.5 billion
Series Editor s Preface
Chapter 1
Understanding Bharati Mukherjee
Chapter 2
India versus America: The Tiger s Daughter, Wife , and Days and Nights in Calcutta
Chapter 3
Canada in Mukherjee s 1980s Work: Darkness and The Sorrow and the Terror
Chapter 4
Immigration to the United States: The Middleman and Other Stories and Jasmine
Chapter 5
Mukherjee s 1990s Writing: The Holder of the World and Leave It to Me
Chapter 6
Novels for the Twenty-First Century: Desirable Daughters, The Tree Bride , and Miss New India
The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature.
As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, the word understanding in the titles was chosen deliberately. Many willing readers lack an adequate understanding of how contemporary literature works; that is, of what the author is attempting to express and the means by which it is conveyed. Aimed at fostering this understanding of good literature and good writers, the criticism and analysis in the series provide instruction in how to read certain contemporary writers-explicating their material, language, structures, themes, and perspectives-and facilitate a more profitable experience of the works under discussion.
In the twenty-first century Professor Bruccoli s prescience gives us an avenue to publish expert critiques of significant contemporary American writing. The series continues to map the literary landscape and to provide both instruction and enjoyment. Future volumes will seek to introduce new voices alongside canonized favorites, to chronicle the changing literature of our times, and to remain, as Professor Bruccoli conceived, contemporary in the best sense of the word.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
I could not have completed this book without the research leave granted me by the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham, U.K. I would also like to acknowledge the intellectual and emotional support given to me by several colleagues and friends: Celeste-Marie Bernier, Susan Billingham, Stephanie Lewthwaite, Paul McGarr, Judie Newman, Helen Oakley, Gillian Roberts, Maria Ryan, and Robin Vandome. I am grateful to Hugh Stevens for originally suggesting I write this book, and to Sin ad Moynihan for encouraging me to approach the University of South Carolina Press. In May 2016 I was privileged to speak at the History, Memory, Grief conference at McMaster University in Canada. This exceptional event, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the Air India Flight 182 bombing in June 1985, was organized by Chandrima Chakraborty; and it provided vital inspiration for chapter 3 .
I am very thankful to my mother, Carole, and to my sister, Margaret, for their love and moral support. I reserve particular gratitude for my father, Robert, who really went the extra mile to help me: reading the manuscript, making valuable editorial suggestions, helping with the bibliography, and offering crucial advice at difficult moments in the writing and research process. Finally, I wish to thank my beautiful children, Rebecca and Joe, for all the joy and love they have given me since I began writing this book; and my husband, Olly, a wonderful man whose love and belief in me over the past twenty years have made all the difference in the world.
Understanding Bharati Mukherjee
Bharati Mukherjee was an important, bold, pioneering American writer. Born in Calcutta, India 1 on July 27, 1940 to Sudhir Lal Mukherjee and Bina (n e Chatterjee), a Bengali Brahmin couple, the young Bharati-the middle of three daughters-enjoyed a privileged early life. Mukherjee s father was a biochemist who ran a successful pharmaceutical company and supported a wide network of some fifty relatives all based within the same house in Ballygunge, south Calcutta. A precociously intelligent child, Mukherjee was always highly literate, stimulated by her parents to read and study. Consuming books in a quiet corner was often a refuge from the claustrophobic demands of traditional Indian joint family living, and she began writing stories as a young child. Mukherjee was inspired by the storytelling of her paternal grandmother and her mother. Indeed, she consistently paid tribute to Bina, who proudly defended and encouraged Mukherjee and her two sisters, Mira and Ranu, against a patriarchal backdrop of ridicule from Bina s older, female in-laws for having borne Sudhir no sons.
Mukherjee and her immediate family moved to London in 1948, living there and also in Liverpool and Switzerland until 1951. When they returned to Calcutta they lived apart from the extended family; and Mukherjee attended the exclusive Loreto House convent school, receiving a traditional Anglophone education in which she was taught by Irish nuns to dismiss her Indian heritage in favor of European and specifically British cultural models. She attended the University of Calcutta, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1959, before getting an M.A. in English and Ancient Indian Culture from the University of Baroda in 1961. That same year Mukherjee arrived in the United States and studied at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop where she produced a thesis titled The Shattered Mirror, a collection of short stories about Calcutta inspired by James Joyce s Dubliners (1914) with each tale carefully arranged as to epiphanies. 2 In a career spanning more than forty years she went on to produce a total of eight novels, two short story collections, two long works of nonfiction, and numerous essays, book reviews, and articles.
Sudhir-often described by Mukherjee as a benign patriarch-believed his beautiful, talented daughter would return to marry a Bengali Brahmin groom of her father s choice and indulge in genteel scribbling from within a seemly traditional marriage. But Mukherjee dared to defy his expectations, marrying Clark Blaise (1940-) in 1963, following a whirlwind romance. Blaise was a fellow student at Iowa, a white Canadian of American upbringing who also went on to become a respected writer. Theirs was both a creative meeting of minds and a long and devoted union that produced two sons, Bart Anand (1964-2015) and Bernard Sudhir (1967-). The marriage ended with Mukherjee s death at the age of seventy-six in January 2017.
Mukherjee earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Iowa in 1969, having taken up an academic post at McGill University, Montreal, in 1966. Her doctoral dissertation concerned the use of Indian mythology in two novels: E. M. Forster s A Passage to India (1924) and Hermann Hesse s Siddhartha (1922). In the 1970s, the Blaises lived in India on two occasions: in Calcutta from 1972 to 1973 and in New Delhi from 1976 to 1977. During this decade Mukherjee produced two novels, The Tiger s Daughter (1971) and Wife (1975), as well as the memoir, Days and Nights in Calcutta (1977), cowritten with Blaise. Mukherjee stayed in Canada, where she became a citizen, until 1980 when the strain of white Canadian racism toward its so-called visible minorities or communities of color became too great for Mukherjee. This racial discrimination impacted Mukherjee, especially after the family s move to Toronto where Blaise joined York University. Mukherjee explored these distressing experiences in her autobiographical essay, An Invisible Woman (1981). Happily settled in Canada by then, Mukherjee s uprooting her family and leaving behind the professional and financial security of her Canadian life was a brave and painful move. It was also richly formative for Mukherjee. Although it resulted in a precarious lifestyle of short-term teaching posts at a range of U.S. universities and colleges, and periods of separation from her husband and sons, it also liberated Mukherjee to pursue her true material creatively 3 : non-European immigration to the United States, following the

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