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Understanding Bharati Mukherjee

Ruth Maxey

Published: Jun 16 2022


Published: Sep 6 2019


Published: Sep 6 2019

OA Ebook
Published: Sep 6 2019


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

2021 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Bharati Mukherjee was the first major South Asian American writer and the first naturalized American citizen to win the National Book Critics Circle Award. Born in Kolkata, India, she immigrated to the United States in 1961 and went on to publish eight novels, two short story collections, two long works of nonfiction, and numerous essays, book reviews, and newspaper articles. She was professor emerita in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley, until her death in 2017.

In Understanding Bharati Mukherjee, Ruth Maxey discusses Mukherjee's influence on younger South Asian American women writers, such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Divakaruni. Mukherjee's powerful writing also enjoyed popular appeal, with some novels achieving best-seller status and international acclaim; her 1989 novel Jasmine was translated into multiple languages. One of the earliest writers to feature South Asian Americans in literary form, Mukherjee reflected upon the influence of non-European immigrants to the United States, following passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system. Her vision of a globalized, interconnected world has been regarded as prophetic, and when Mukherjee died, diverse North American writers—Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje, Ann Beattie, Amy Tan, and Richard Ford—came forward to praise her work and its importance.

Understanding Bharati Mukherjee is the first book to examine this pioneering author's complete oeuvre and to identify its legacy. Maxey offers new insights into widely discussed texts and recuperates overlooked works, such as Mukherjee's first and last published short stories, her neglected nonfiction, and her many essays. Critically situating both well-known and under-discussed texts, this study analyzes the aesthetic and ideological complexity of Mukherjee's writing, considering her sophisticated, erudite, multilayered use of intertextuality, especially her debt to cinema. Maxey argues that understanding the range of formal and stylistic strategies in play is crucial to grasping Mukherjee's work.

Ruth Maxey is an associate professor in modern American literature at the University of Nottingham. She is the author of South Asian Atlantic Literature, 1970–2010, and her articles have appeared in Critique, Textual Practice, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Cambridge Quarterly, Wasafiri, and South Asian Review, among other journals.

"Understanding Bharati Mukherjee offers a comprehensive analysis of the author and her oeuvre written in lucid prose accessible to all levels of readers... instructors will amass many classroom strategies from Maxey's thorough and thoughtful readings of individual texts. Understanding Bharati Mukherjee will be necessary reading for scholars studying Mukherjee, ethnic American literature, South Asian/diasporic fiction, and postcolonial literature for decades to come."—South Asian Review

"[A] comprehensive assessment of the whole of Mukherjee's oeuvre... What is unique about this well-written, detailed study is its attention to Mukherjee's less-known works of fiction and nonfiction. Scholars and students familiar with Mukherjee's work will find much to admire here. Maxey does not just assess Mukherjee's work—through close readings and nearly three decades of scholarship—she also breaks new ground, extending the ongoing conversation about this important writer's work in exciting new directions."—Choice

"[A] comprehensive introduction to and critical study of a pioneering South Asian American author written in an accessible style... [A] welcome addition to the already substantial body of scholarship on Mukherjee."—ariel: A Review of International English Literature

"Ruth Maxey's Understanding Bharati Mukherjee makes a timely, critical and distinctive contribution to the interpretation of this controversial and pioneering South Asian-American writer. It not only recuperates many neglected essays and short stories but explores Mukherjee's range of artistic strategies that are vital to an understanding of her work. Its wide-ranging scope and innovative approach will make this study a key point of reference for future scholars of postcolonial and contemporary American literary studies."—Ruvani Ranasinha, King's College London

"In this capacious engagement with Mukherjee's oeuvre, Ruth Maxey brilliantly navigates the canonical and popular appeal of the author's work. Maxey provides complex readings, beautifully unearthing compelling strategies for reading the paradoxical impulses in Mukherjee's fiction. Understanding Bharati Mukherjee is a must-read for the specialist and non-specialist reader alike."—Anita Mannur, Miami University

"Ruth Maxey's Understanding Bharati Mukherjee is a meticulously researched and elegantly written study of one of the pioneering women of South Asian American fiction. Maxey combines close reading and excavating many intertextual references from films and nineteenth- century British literature in Mukherjee's works along with a critical examination of her responses to feminism, national belonging, and immigration."—Lopamudra Basu, University of Wisconsin–Stout

2021 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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