Critical Context

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Acclaimed as brilliantly written and superbly crafted, Jasmine grew out of a short story of the same title in The Middleman and Other Stories (1988), which won Mukherjee the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. In Jasmine, the author successfully employs a number of narrative strategies, such as the use of a first-person point of view (unlike the omniscient perspective of her previous novels), singular and plural narrative voices, flashbacks, introspective asides, and cross-cutting, which allow the reader to roam in time, within a chapter, even within a paragraph, from one continent to another. Mukherjee also experiments with the form of the novel by creating a female Bildungsroman in the picaresque mode.

Thematically, Jasmine is central to Mukherjee’s mission as a writer. “My material,” as she has stated, “is the rapid and dramatic transformation of the United States since the early 1970s. . . . My duty is to give voice to continents, but also to redefine the nature of American and what makes an American.” Jasmine is basically a story of transformation. Like Mukherjee’s first two novels, The Tiger’s Daughter (1972) and Wife (1975), and her first collection of short stories, Darkness (1985), it deals primarily with the South Asian immigrant experience. Whereas these earlier works dramatize cultural disorientation and alienation, however, Jasmine celebrates the process of assimilation and Americanization prefigured in The Middleman and Other Stories. Her novel The Holder of the World (1993) traverses the continents.

In addition to her novels and two collections of short fiction, Mukherjee has written a travel memoir, Days and Nights in Calcutta (1977; coauthored with her husband Clark Blaise); a documentary, The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy (1987, in collaboration with Blaise); a political treatise, Kautilya’s Concept of Diplomacy (1976); and a number of essays, articles, and reviews. Her work has appeared in several newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. Her immigrant narratives, chronicling the saga of “new Americans,” are contributing to the literature of American multiculturalism and have won for her a distinctive place among first-generation North American writers of Indian origin.

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Critical Evaluation