Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

When Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine was published in 1989, it received wide critical praise in the mass media, but less kind treatment among academic scholars. Mukherjee had just had her greatest success in becoming the first naturalized American citizen to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. She won that award in 1988 for The Middleman and Other Stories.

The New York Times Book Review called Jasmine "One of the most suggestive novels we have about what it is to become American." At the year's end, it named the book one of the best of 1989. The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times praised the author's poetic writing style. The Library Journal said, "The novel has delicious humor and sexiness that make it a treat to read." USA Today and others chose to focus more on its importance in raising awareness of both Indian and American cultures.

‘‘A beautiful novel, poetic, exotic, perfectly controlled,’’ The San Francisco Chronicle wrote.

In Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives, Jasmine is seen in less generous terms. Debjani Banerjee, in an essay published in Perspectives, indicates that Mukherjee fails "to contextualize the historical and political events of India’’ and is unable to ‘‘perceive the complex workings of postcolonial and neocolonial forces.’’ In this article, Banerjee articulates a backlash among South Asians to Mukherjee's work. She writes that Mukherjee represents Indians in such a way that implies "one must escape from the disillusionment and treachery of postcolonial history.’’ In sum, Banerjee accuses Mukherjee of "catering to a First World audience while stilling mining the Third World for fictional material.’’

Gurleen Grewal, another critic writing in Perspectives, accuses Mukherjee of perpetuating certain lies about the American Dream. She claims that Mukherjee overlooks the barriers of education, race, and history that would have prevented Jasmine, a Punjabi peasant girl, from becoming a liberated and articulate New World woman in a relatively short time. Grewal further indicts Mukherjee for perpetuating stereotypes of Indian-American speech patterns and other social and psychological aspects of immigration.

Still another Perspectives writer, Alpana Sharma Knippling, takes offense with Mukherjee's perspective on immigration. Knippling feels Mukherjee's views are skewed by her own upper-class background.

Other critics insist that Mukherjee is exploiting a fad of postcolonial literature. Despite these criticisms, Mukherjee is generally well regarded in literary America. Wendy Lesser, writing on the United States in 1997's The Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing, credits Mukherjee with a ‘‘talent for cultural mimicry that verges on ventriloquism.’’ She does, however, point out that, "Mukherjee is known for her novels but her best writing is in her short stories.’’

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Critical Evaluation


Essays and Criticism