Today’s role model is very fitting in our current state of affairs here in the U.S. For this post, I highlight an immigrant woman.
For the longest time, I had Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine on my bookshelf, sitting there, waiting to be read. I always seemed to forget about it, and more recent novels always swept me up first. Now, with the author’s recent passing, I will finally take the time to read it.
“I think of Jasmine, and many of my characters, as being people who are pulling themselves out of the very traditional world in which their fate is predetermined, their destiny resigned to the stars. Traditionally, a good person accepts this. But Jasmine says, ‘I’m going to reposition the stars.”
I head about the author’s death on NPR this morning when they played a clip of an archived interview with her. From the short segment, her life story sounded intriguing and very relatable. Mukherjee was born in Calcutta and moved to Iowa to earn a M.F.A. and later, a doctorate in comparative literature. While her parents were arranging her marriage back home, she married a writer she studied with and later moved to Montreal, Canada with him. Needless to say, her experiences as an educated immigrant woman with a talent for writing shaped much of her life and work. She commented that publishers at that time did not know how to respond to someone like her.
She and her husband moved back to the U.S. after encountering racial tensions and issues in Canada (funny how things change, huh?) She taught at UC Berkeley and continued to write numerous works. Her book The Middleman and Other Stories (1988) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. She died on January 28, 2017 at the age of 76.
“From those years I evolved a credo: Make the familiar exotic (Americans won’t recognize their country when I get finished with it) and make the exotic — the India of elephants and arranged marriages — familiar.”