A writer, professor, and forceful speaker on immigration, Mukherjee is best known for her fictional works about Indian immigrants in North America. Through 2008, she had published seven novels, several collections of short stories, and a number of nonfictional essays and books, many of which touch on immigration issues.
Born in India in 1940, Bharati Mukherjee was the daughter of a pharmaceutical chemist. At an early age, she demonstrated literary ability. She could read and write by the age of three and decided to be an author by the age of ten. Life in Calcutta meant sharing a home with her father’s extended family, with as many as fifty relatives living in one establishment. In 1947, her family emigrated to Great Britain, where she lived for more than three years. After returning to India, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and ancient Indian culture in her home country. She then became an immigrant again, when she went to the United States to earn a master of fine arts degree in creative writing and a doctorate in English and comparative literature at the University of Iowa. In 1963, she married Canadian writer
After completing her doctorate in 1969, Mukherjee immigrated to Canada, where she became a naturalized citizen in 1972. Many of her writings describe her years in Canada as a time of discrimination, as she found Canadian citizens generally antagonistic toward Asian immigrants. This view can particularly be seen in her first collection of short stories, Darkness (1985), which echoes the occurrences of ethnic division she observed and underwent while living in Canada.
In 1980, Mukherjee moved to the United States, where she became a permanent resident. She regarded her immigration status in the United States as triumphant and embraced the “melting pot” philosophy that allowed her to become an American citizen in 1987. In becoming a citizen of the United States, she eschewed the idea that she was an “Asian American” or an “Indian American” as racist. Instead, she called herself an American with Bengali Indian origins.
Mukherjee’s work has often been criticized for its inclusion of immigration issues, and she has challenged the stereotypes of immigrants that she has often seen reinforced in academic and publishing realms. Although her characters are typically female immigrants who have experienced discrimination in some form, her stories provide a powerful survival theme as their characters overcome the handicaps of their foreign backgrounds, experiences, and sorrows to find new directions.
In an attempt to break the
Alam, Fakrul. Bharati Mukherjee. New York: Twayne, 1996. Kumar, Amitava. Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate. New York: Routledge, 2004. Zhou, Xiaojing, and Samina Najmi. Form and Transformation in Asian American Literature. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005.
Asian American literature
Asian Indian immigrants
Association of Indians in America
Lim, Shirley Geok-lin