Oh Calcutta!

Mukherjee heaps some heavy ideas (colonialism, tradition, assimilation) on top of a light plot, but Desirable Daughters doesn't collapse under the weight. Its hybrid structure absorbs conflicting currents of Tara's world, though this results in unsubtle metaphors and maddening repetitions. The worst example is the earthquake motif permeating the book. Tara's boyfriend, the earthquake-proofer, litters his conversation with references to fault lines and tectonic plates: "Your marriage is over. Growing up like a princess is over. They're cold faults, understand?" Soon Tara is finding hairline fractures everywhere—in the ever changing cultural landscape of America, in the slow but just as steady transformation of Indian society.

Bharati Mukherjee's work gracefully shimmies through the mess of cultural cross-wires.
photo: Jerry Bauer
Bharati Mukherjee's work gracefully shimmies through the mess of cultural cross-wires.

Details

Desirable Daughters
By Bharati Mukherjee
Hyperion/Theia, 310 pp., $24.95
Buy this book

The way Mukherjee tells it, immigrants are living mutations, making conscious and unconscious decisions about which bits of their old identity to ditch and which to save. Tara is constantly adjusting her center of gravity as the ground shifts beneath her feet, and the fluctuating style of Desirable Daughters comes close to mirroring that experience.

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