In This Article Bharati Mukherjee

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Notes and Published Dissertations
  • General Criticism

American Literature Bharati Mukherjee
by
Feroza Jussawalla
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0162

Introduction

The first American author of Indian origin to have the honor to be included in the canon of American literature, Bharati Mukherjee chooses to see herself as an unhyphenated American, wholly belonging in America, having lived there for thirty years and a decade in Canada. At the University of Iowa, Mukherjee met and married Clark Blaise in 1964. They both lived and worked in Canada where she taught at McGill University. She found Canada an inhospitable home. She has talked about being spat on and unseen in the essay “An Invisible Woman,” published in Saturday Night (96 [March 1981]: 36–40). She proclaimed her angry divorce from Canada. In an article in the New York Times Book Review, “Immigrant Writing: Give Us Your Maximalists” (28 August 1989, p. 29), she talks about becoming American, in the language of marriage. In her essay, “American Dreamer” in Mother Jones (1 January 1997), she wrote, “I am an American, not an Asian American. My rejection of hyphenation has been called race treachery, but it really is a demand that America deliver the promises of its dream to all its citizens equally.” Mukherjee was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 27 July 1940 and raised in a cross-cultural situation from early childhood. She travelled with her parents to Europe and also went to English speaking schools. She went to Iowa, to attend the creative writing program there, in 1962. After a brief move to Canada, she moved back to Iowa where she received a PhD in English and comparative literature in 1969. She continued writing and published her first novel, The Tiger’s Daughter, in 1972. From there on, her career took off. When she became a US citizen in 1997, she proclaimed with great delight, “I am American now.” The primary themes of Mukherjee’s work are immigration, dislocation, and the accompanying violence and anger. She incorporates current crises as they affect South Asian immigrant community: the bombing of the Air India flight, the smuggling and reselling of sacrificed hair from Indian temples, and the abuse of women in call centers.

General Overviews

There are many general overviews of Mukherjee’s work. Since she is among the first of the Indian writers to have made inroads into the US literary establishment, she is also the first to be written about widely, but primarily by Indian scholars and scholars working in the fields of “world literatures written in English” and “Indian writing in English,” and now the evolved field of “postcolonial literature.” She has also been categorized under Asian American literature. Many of the general overviews are concerned with where to place her. And this, in a sense, has been her own story, a story of “unbelonging,” not being able to belong at home in Calcutta with her Canadian husband or in “the West,” whether in Canada or in the United States. In many biobibliographical critical sourcebooks, she falls continually into the category of “Asian American.” It seems that the more she resists categorization and hyphenation, the more she is described thus. The section Single-Authored Overviews includes introductory overviews of Bharati Mukherjee’s work and narratives of her life, themes, and struggles. Overview Anthologies includes critical essays on themes in her work.

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