Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta in 1940, the second of three daughters born to Bengali-speaking, Hindu Brahmin parents. She lived in a house crowded with 40 or 50 relatives until she was eight, when her father's career brought the family to live in London for several years.
After getting her B.A. from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her M.A. in English and Ancient Indian Culture from the University of Baroda in 1961, she traveled to the United States for the first time. As she describes it:
I flew into a small airport surrounded by cornfields and pastures, ready to carry out the two commands my father had written out for me the night before I left Calcutta: Spend two years studying creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, then come back home and marry the bridegroom he selected for me from our caste and class.
Mukherjee found herself changed by her experience at the University of Iowa, her first coeducational experience. She fell in love with Canadian writer Clark Blaise, a fellow student, and married him impulsively during her lunch break after only two weeks of courtship. Any plans to return to India after finishing school were rewritten in that moment.
Mukherjee immigrated to Canada with her husband after completing her M.F.A. and then her Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from the University of Iowa. She became a naturalized Canadian citizen in 1972, but chose to leave Canada with her husband and two sons in 1980 to move to the United States. She describes her identity as a naturalized U.S. citizen in "American Dreamer," published in 1997 in MOTHER JONES.
In 1986, Mukherjee was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts grant. After holding several posts at various colleges and universities, she settled in 1989 at the University of California-Berkeley, where she continues as a professor of English.
Read more about some of Bharati Mukherjee's books below:
|THE TIGER'S DAUGHTER, 1971|
"My first novel, THE TIGER'S DAUGHTER, embodies the loneliness I felt but could not acknowledge, even to myself, as I negotiated the no man's land between the country of my past and the continent of my present. Shaped by memory, textured with nostalgia for a class and culture I had abandoned, this novel quite naturally became and expression of the expatriate consciousness." Bharati Mukherjee, "American Dreamer"
"Dimple Dasgupta had set her heart on marrying a neurosurgeon, but her father was looking for engineers in the matrimonial ads." So begins the wry story of an obedient daughter of middle-class Indian parents who is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Driven first to shock and then to despair, Dimple lives in a waking dream. And when her fantasies take a violent turn, she wonders where wishes end and reality begins...." THE VILLAGE VOICE
|DAYS AND NIGHTS IN CALCUTTA, with Clark Blaise, 1977|
DAYS AND NIGHTS IN CALCUTTA is an account from two very different perspectives of a year spent in India. Mukherjee was reunited with her family after an absence of 14 years, and Blaise was a Westerner in India for the first time both struggled with the daily challenges of cultural barriers, as recounted in this book.
Mukherjee's first collection of short stories reflects her mood of cultural separation while living in Canada.
|THE SORROW AND THE TERROR: THE HAUNTING LEGACY OF THE AIR INDIA TRAGEDY, with Clark Blaise, 1987|
Mukherjee and Blaise investigate the funding behind the Air India tragedy of 1985.
|THE MIDDLEMAN AND OTHER STORIES, 1988|
Awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1988, this short story collection includes tales told from many perspectives. "Mukherjee's central preoccupation is the problematical nature of personal encounters between East and West. These expertly crafted tales continue to have that focus; all turn on recent Third World immigrant experience in or closely affected by North America. Mukherjee makes the ambitious attempt to narrate through the voices of characters as diverse as a middle-class Italian-American suburbanite, a Sephardic mercenary from Smyrna by way of Flushing, Queens, a Trinidadian mother's helper and an Atlantan investment banker." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"A story of a young widow who uproots herself from her life in India and re-roots herself in search of a new life and the image of America. It is a story of dislocation and relocation as the title character continually sheds lives to move into other roles, moving further westward while constantly fleeing pieces of her past. In it, Mukherjee rejoices in the idea of assimilation and makes it clear that Jasmine needs to travel to America to make something significant of her life, because in the third world she faced only despair and loss. What Mukherjee hoped that people would read in the story is not only Jasmine's story and change, but also the story of a changing America." Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color University of Minnesota
|THE HOLDER OF THE WORLD, 1993|
"This is not a book about India, but about the making of America and American national mythology." Bharati Mukherjee, interviewed by Tina Chen and S.X. Goudie at
University of California, Berkeley
|LEAVE IT TO ME, 1997|
Mukherjee once again explores the changing identities of an individual in this novel. She describes her protagonist Devi as tough and vulnerable. "I never saw my character Devi's tale as optimistic. Here's a street smart, savvy, manipulative young woman, enraged about the fact that she was thrown out like a garbage sack on the hippie trail, who's part of a larger design in which some higher power uses her to restore some kind of balance and purge evil out of our California. I never saw her as a mean person, more as a person capable of redemption after she's gone through some of the violence within herself." Bharati Mukherjee, interviewed by Ron Hogan for BEATRICE
|DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS, 2002|
Mukherjee explains why she named her book DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS: "Because in Hindu societies, especially overprotected patriarchal families like mine, daughters are not at all desirable. They are trouble. And a mother who, as mine did, has three daughters, no sons, is supposed to go and hang herself, kill herself, because it is such an unlucky kind of motherhood to have." Bharati Mukherjee, interviewed by Bill Moyers