Summary

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Last Updated May 16, 2024.

Introduction

Jasmine was published in 1999 by Grove Atlantic Press. Told in a non-linear narrative style, the novel moves back and forth through time as it explores the different identities and lives that a young Indian woman evolves into and out of throughout her journey across several continents and with several lovers. 

The author of Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee, was a renowned Indian American writer who wrote eight novels, four short story collections, three non-fiction texts, and one memoir. Jasmine is based on a character from Mukherjee’s short story collection The Middleman and Other Stories, which won the esteemed National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988. 

Plot Summary

The narrative opens with seven-year-old Jyoti Vijh encountering an astrologer in her home village, Hasnapur, India. He tells her she will end up exiled and widowed, but she calls him crazy. The astrologer hits Jyoti and she falls, creating a star-shaped wound on her head that leaves a lifelong scar. 

The narrative then moves forward 17 years in time, where a 24-year-old Jyoti, going now by the name Jane, lives in Iowa with her partner, Bud Ripplemeyer, and their adopted son, Du. Bud is disabled, and Jane has become his primary caretaker. She is pregnant, but the two are unmarried. Bud wants them to get married before the baby comes, but Jane is hesitant. 

Jane likes the Ripplemeyers but feels out of place among them, knowing they can never truly understand what her home in Punjab was like or what she went through to arrive in America. She feels more of a kinship with Du, who was born in Vietnam and lost his family in a refugee camp. Even still, she feels lost and directionless, unsure of what to do or how to move forward. 

Traveling back in time, the narrative returns to Jyoti and her life in Punjab. Jyoti was a very intelligent child, but she lacked educational opportunities. When she was 14 years old, her father dies and she meets a friend of her brother's named Prakash. Before she even sees his face, she falls in love with him.

Jyoti and Prakash marry two weeks after meeting; soon, he begins to call her Jasmine. Prakash is educated and progressive, and the two plan to move to America together so Prakash can continue his education at a technical institute in Florida. While they are shopping in the city one day, a man named Sukhwinder arrives and detonates a bomb in a random, religiously motivated attack. During the attack, Prakash dies while shielding Jasmine with his body.

In the wake of her husband's death, Jasmine decides she still wants to move to America, so she embarks on a long and winding journey across the world. She finally arrives in Florida, where she spends her first night in a motel with a boat captain named Half-Face, who sexually assaults her. The assault spurs an emotionally fragile Jasmine into action, leading her to mutilate her tongue before slicing Half-Face's throat. Jasmine leaves the motel and is found by a kind woman named Lillian Gordon, who houses her and helps her learn to fit into American society. 

Jasmine leaves Florida for New York, where she finds a professor Prakash knew. She lives with his family for five months, helping cook, shop, and clean. Eventually, Jasmine begins feeling trapped by the unfamiliar family and small apartment. Seeking a way out, she calls Kate Gordon-Feldstein, Lillian’s daughter, to help her find a new job and home. 

Jasmine spends two years working as an au pair for Taylor and Wylie Hayes and their adopted daughter, Duff. Jasmine takes Duff out...

(This entire section contains 857 words.)

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on all sorts of adventures; Jasmine begins to gain more freedom as she is paid for her work for the first time. Taylor—who gives Jasmine the nickname Jase—is particularly fond of her. However, Taylor and Wylie begin to fight, and Jase learns they will likely separate. 

Jase is out with Taylor one afternoon when she sees Sukhwinder working a hot dog stand. Stunned, she decides to flee the city to escape the memory of her husband's murder. From New York, she goes to Iowa, where she meets Bud. She begins to work for his bank, and the two fall in love. It is here that she transforms again, from Jase into Jane. 

While in Iowa, Jane begins to receive letters from Taylor, saying he will come find her in Iowa. Jane continually refuses to marry Bud, realizing that she does not just want to be his caretaker. Du decides to move to Los Angeles to try and connect with his remaining Vietnamese family members. Although Jane is distraught, she understands why he has to go. 

In the fall, Taylor and Duff finally arrive at Jane’s Iowa home. Taylor tells her that they planning to continue west to California, and Jane decides to go with them. She likes Bud, but the promise of freedom and hope for a different future leads her to ultimately leave with Taylor, embracing her future and spiting the astrologer from so long ago.

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