Bharati Mukherjee, an Indian-born American writer who explored the internal culture clashes of her immigrant characters in the award-winning collection “The Middleman and Other Stories” and in novels like “Jasmine,” died on Saturday, January 28th in Manhattan. She was 76.
The cause was complications of rheumatoid arthritis and takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a stress-induced heart condition, her husband, the writer Clark Blaise, said.
Mukherjee, a native of Calcutta, attended schools in England, Switzerland and India, earned advanced degrees in creative writing in the United States and lived for more than a decade in Canada, affording her a wealth of experience in the modern realities of multiculturalism.
“The narrative of immigration is the epic narrative of this millennium,” she wrote in an autobiographical statement for the reference work Contemporary Authors in 2005.
Mukherjee’s other works include novels “The Holder of the World” (1993), “Leave It To Me”(1997), Desirable Daughters” (2002), “The Tree Bride” (2004), “Miss New India” (2011); and short stories “Darkness” (1985), “The Middleman and Other Stories” (1988) for which she received the National Book Critics Award, “A Father” and “A Management of Grief”. Mukherjee also published some non-fiction work – “The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy, that she co-write with Blaise; “political Culture and Leadership in India (1991); and “Regionalism in Indian Perspective (1992).
In many of her novels and stories, a young woman — shaped, as she was, by a patriarchal culture — strikes out for the unknown, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. In the existential crisis that ensues, a new self emerges — or a series of selves, with multiple answers to the question “Who am I?”
In “The Middleman and Other Stories” (1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, Ms. Mukherjee served up the immigrant experience in all its rich variety, told through the voices of newcomers from the Caribbean, the Middle East, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, all of them both daunted and intoxicated by the strange possibilities of life in the United States.
The title character and narrator of “Jasmine” (1989), a novel that quickly won a place on high school and college reading lists, is a poor Punjabi who makes her way to Florida and undergoes a series of transformations. Taking on a new identity and a new name as she moves from one job to the next, “greedy with wants and reckless from hope,” she draws ever closer to the dream of shedding her old identity and achieving the American dream of self-definition.
“I feel at times like a stone hurtling through diaphanous mist, unable to grab hold, unable to slow myself, yet unwilling to abandon the ride I’m on,” the narrator writes. “Down and down I go, where I’ll stop, God only knows.”