on 12 February 2004
Many themes are in the novel, the most obvious being the trials of immigrants/emigrants but the deeper theme is Mukherjee's concern with identity and the adaptability of people. The protagonist has a name for each persona: Jyoti, Jasmine, Kali, Jase, Jane indicating her psychological passage, tempting to say Anglicisation, but adaptation is really the point I think.
An engaging tale is backed up by a sparse and excellent first person narrative. In terms of the obvious temptation of being judgemental about either or both East and West, Mukherjee refrains and lets the reader decide. What isn't there is perhaps most significant and this makes it a very mature book. Compare that, say, to another immigration book, The Grapes of Wrath which, whilst good, over-labours the point (in my opinion, anyway!) The language here is simple and unpretentious and punctuated by the occasional very visual metaphor: "The trees were stooped and gnarled, as though the ghosts of old women had taken root." There's no posing or experimentalism and the author lets the story tell the story.
The only possible issue is my partner's (a Sikh Punjaban) criticism that her move to the US seems unlikely (young widow persuading her brothers to help her make the trip.) Having had the pleasure of staying myself in some Punjaban villages close to Jullander last year I have an inkling for what she's saying (coupled with an extra interest in the book) but still remain ignorant enough for this not to bother me in my assessment of it!
A great book that's undoubtedly not got the respect it deserves.
on 9 July 2000
This is a superbly written tale of the immense spiritual and cultural difficulties that immigrants to the US face, particularly when they have to give up so much of their previous lives, as is the case with the protagonist in this novel. Mukherjee is never judgmental and illustrates through the eyes of an Indian immigrant woman (and the theme of femininity is an essential aspect of this book) the struggle to conform and be comfortably middle class, even in a nation founded on immigration.
Mukherjee's language is spare, neat and at times beautifully poetic. Even the most terrifying episodes are written serenely and with an immense control that only the very best authors of fiction can achieve. I urge you to buy this book both for its quality and its cultural significance, given the wealth of asian immigration into the US at the moment in time.