Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta, India, on July 27, 1940, the daughter of pharmaceutical chemist Sudhir Lal Mukherjee and his wife, Bina (née Barrerjee). Mukherjee’s was a comparatively wealthy Bengali Hindu Brahmin family, and during her early childhood they lived with their large extended family (numbering up to forty during wartime) in a flat in Ballygunge, a middle-class neighborhood of Calcutta. Life there was stable and somewhat insulated from the rough and tumble of Calcutta, but Mukherjee was aware of the homeless beggars roaming the streets, the funerals of freedom fighters during India’s struggle for independence from British imperial rule, and the Hindu-Muslim riots at the partition of India and Pakistan. She enjoyed the affection of a loving father (who was fond of his three daughters despite his society’s prevailing preference for sons), listened to the tales of her mother (“a powerful storyteller”), and feared the madness of an aunt.
When Mukherjee was eight, her father sent his three daughters to school in England and Switzerland. After three years of this experiment in European education, the sisters returned to Calcutta to live in a home set up within the compound of the pharmaceutical company partly owned by their father in suburban Cossipore. From there they attended a school staffed by Irish nuns; en route to...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Mukherjee’s short stories and novels bring unique insight and profundity to the immigration, expatriation, and assimilation of South Asians, especially South Asian women, in North America. She explores the effects of racism, sexism, violence, and human exploitation with consummate skill, measured realism, and moving drama. There is an implacable resentment of racism in her works, but there is also an implicit hope in the redeeming possibilities of love and in the positive aspects of United States society, in which individuals of color, even women of color, may realize their full humanity and empower themselves. Mukherjee’s artistry is characterized by her frequent use of irony, imagistic leitmotifs that grow into meaningful symbols, literary and mythological allusions, a supple and exuberant wielding of multiple American idioms, and acute psychological penetration into a wide assortment of characters.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Bharati Mukherjee was born into a well-to-do, traditional Bengali Brahman family in the Calcutta suburb of Ballygunge on July 27, 1940. Her Hindu family’s affluence buffered them from the political crises of independence and partition that engulfed the Indian subcontinent in the 1940’s, and by the end of that troubled decade her father, Sudhir Lal Mukherjee, a chemist and the proprietor of a successful pharmaceutical company, had moved the family first to London (1948-1950) and then to Switzerland (1951) before returning them to India. Accordingly, Mukherjee explains, she and her two sisters (one older, one younger) “were born both too late and not late enough to be real Indians.” Her educational experiences abroad had made her fluent in English at an early age, so that once back in India she began attending Calcutta’s Loreto Convent School, an elite institution for girls run by Irish Catholic nuns, where she occasionally glimpsed Mother Teresa early in her ministry to the city’s poor. At the time, Mukherjee herself followed the habits of her caste and preferred to turn away from the misery on the streets around her rather than question or reflect upon it.
Neither did she consciously plan to deviate very far from the traditional path of Indian womanhood expected of her; even her early interest in becoming a writer, fed by an ever-expanding fascination with the European novels to which her travels and education had exposed her, was tolerated because she was female—such impractical aspirations would have been quickly discouraged in a son, she believes. She has praised her mother for her courageous insistence that she receive a top-flight English education so that she “would not end up, she said, as chattel to a traditional Bengali husband.” Although her father intended to have his middle daughter marry a bridegroom of the family’s choosing from within their own strictly defined social class, he encouraged her intellectual aspirations in the meantime, and so Mukherjee earned an honors B.A. in English from Calcutta University in 1959 and a master’s degree in English and ancient Indian culture in 1961 from the University of Baroda. She then joined “the first generation of Indians who even thought of going to the United States rather than automatically to England” when she accepted a Philanthropic Educational Organization International Peace Scholarship to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, receiving an M.F.A. in 1963. During that time she also met Clark Blaise, an American writer of Canadian descent, whom she married on September 13,...
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Bharati Mukherjee was born to an upper-caste Bengali family and received an English education. The most important event of her life occurred in her early twenties, when she received a scholarship to attend the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. Her fiction reflects the experimental techniques fostered at such influential creative writing schools.
At the University of Iowa, Mukherjee met Clark Blaise, a Canadian citizen and fellow student. When they moved to Canada she became painfully aware of her status as a nonwhite immigrant in a nation less tolerant of newcomers than the United States. The repeated humiliations she endured made her hypersensitive to the plight of immigrants from the Third World. She realized that immigrants may lose their old identities but not be able to find new identities as often unwelcome strangers.
Mukherjee, relying on her experience growing up, sought her salvation in education. She obtained a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature and moved up the career ladder at various colleges and universities in the East and Midwest until she became a professor at Berkeley in 1989. Her first novel, The Tiger’s Daughter, was published in 1972. In common with all her fiction, it deals with the feelings of exile and identity confusion that are experienced by immigrants. Being female as well as an immigrant, Mukherjee noted that opportunities for women were so different in America that she was exhilarated and bewildered. Many of her best stories, dealing with women experiencing gender crises, have a strong autobiographical element.
Darkness, her first collection of stories, was well reviewed, but not until the publication of The Middleman and Other Stories did she become internationally prominent. Critics have recognized that she is dealing with perhaps the most important contemporary phenomenon, the population explosion and flood of immigrants from have-not nations. Mukherjee makes these newcomers understandable to themselves and to native citizens, while shedding light on the identity problems of all the anonymous, inarticulate immigrants of America’s past.
Her protagonists are not the “huddled masses” of yesteryear; they are talented, multilingual, enterprising, often affluent men and women who are transforming American culture. Mukherjee’s compassion for these newcomers has made her one of the most important writers of her time.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Although born in India to parents of a Bengali Brahman (upper-class) caste, Bharati Mukherjee became a citizen of the world early in life. Born in July, 1940, to a father who was a prosperous pharmaceutical chemist and business owner and to a freethinking mother, both of whom wanted education and freedom of action for their daughters, Mukherjee experienced a rather cosmopolitan education. In 1947, after India won its independence from Great Britain, she was enrolled in boarding schools in England and Switzerland, where she perfected her English. Her native Bengali language and customs were marginalized by her educators, and she returned to Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) somewhat a cultural “outsider” to her native India. There she completed her secondary education at Loreto House, taught by Irish nuns.
Mukherjee continued her education, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Calcutta and a master’s degree in both English and ancient Indian culture at the University of Baroda (1961). Subsequently, she was part of the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and began her literary and teaching career, the latter of which included positions at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, McGill University in Montreal, Columbia University in New York, and the University of California at Berkeley.
It was at the University of Iowa that Mukherjee received both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. In...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Bharati Mukherjee (MOO-kehr-jee) has become one of the literary voices whose skillful depictions of the non-European immigrant experience in the United States she credits with “subverting the very notion of what the American novel is and of what American culture is.” Born in Calcutta to an affluent Bengali family, Mukherjee’s life early assumed an international flavor as her father’s pharmaceutical career took the family to England and Switzerland. Fluent in English at an early age, Mukherjee entered an English-language convent school upon her return to Calcutta, which maintained the insularity from the city’s poverty that also characterized her prosperous home life. She received a B.A. in English from the University of...
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