This story is to be found in Mukherjee’s first collection of short fiction, titled Darkness (1985). Like most of its companion stories in this collection, it records, analyzes, and dramatizes the tribulations of South Asian immigrants in North America. These Darkness stories are painful, often violent, and either tragic or ironic; their collective title seems to be an ironic inversion of the way in which the West thinks of itself as a locus of freedom, opportunity, and enlightenment in contrast to benighted developing countries. The irony is especially mordant when one hears in Mukherjee’s title echoes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), condemning nineteenth century European colonialism, and V. S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness (1964), an Asian-denigrating travelogue about India. For Mukherjee, it appears that darkness has overtaken North America, supposedly the leading light of the Western world.
It is racism, a darkness of the mind toward the darkness of another’s skin, that most taints North American life. The racism of Canada, especially, receives the brunt of Mukherjee’s resentment in “The World According to Hsü.” Indeed, in her introduction to these stories, Mukherjee says that during her fourteen-year sojourn in Canada, white Canadians commonly assumed that she was a prostitute, a shoplifter, or a domestic, and that Canadian society routinely made crippling assumptions about the imagined disabilities of immigrants of color.
In “The World According to Hsü,” Ratna Clayton, a Eurasian woman of Indian descent, and her husband, Graeme Clayton, a white Canadian professor, are vacationing on an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the African coast. The couple is trying to decide whether to move their home from French Montreal to Anglo...
(The entire section is 748 words.)