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Desirable Daughters: A Novel Paperback – March 12, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (March 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786885157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786885152
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,059,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Desirable Daughters, by the prolific writer Bharati Mukherjee, whose short story collection The Middleman won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award, is a masterful meditation on marriage and family ties. It begins on a fantastic note: on a winter night in an east Bengali village in 1879, the narrator's ancestor, 5-year-old Tara Lata, is married to a tree after her 13-year-old husband-to-be dies of a snakebite on their wedding day. The novel ends some 120 years later, when Tara, the 36-year-old narrator, returns to this same village in winter with her teenaged son. Like her ancestor, Tara Bhattacharjee is the youngest of three sisters of a Brahmin family. Although they grew up in Calcutta, Tara and the oldest sister now live in America while the middle sister lives in Bombay. Tara was married (in an arranged marriage) at age 19 to Bish Chatterjee, a genius who makes a fortune from a cutting-edge computer process. He and Tara are estranged when the novel opens, but when a stranger claiming kinship shows up at the house that Tara shares in San Francisco with her son and her boyfriend, she reconsiders her assumptions about her entire family. In the course of the novel, a sister's secret and a murder are uncovered, and a near-fatal bombing occurs. Mukherjee's Desirable Daughters is yet another of her magically written, compelling novels. --Susan Biskeborn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

HIt should take nothing away from the achievements of new young writers of South Asian origin to state that Mukherjee eclipses all of them in her new novel, the highlight of her career to date. Only a writer with mature vision, a sense of history and a long-nurtured observation of the Indo-American community could have created this absorbing tale of two rapidly changing cultures and the flash points where they intersect. The narrator, 36-year-old Tara Chatterjee, was born into comfort and privilege in Calcutta. She and her two sisters are part of a close knit, snobbish Brahmin Bengali family, and the girls are raised to marry well. Tara, however, has brought shame to the family by divorcing her multimillionaire husband, Bish, and moving with their teenage son, Rabi, to Atherton, Calif., where the sudden intrusion of the past into her and her sisters' lives is only the first tremor of an earthquake that will undermine their safe assumptions. The narrative succeeds brilliantly in interweaving several themes of class, history and changing consciousness. Beneath the family drama and Tara's quest for her identity, Mukherjee tells a larger story about Indians in India and the U.S., painting a complex picture of vastly different cultures Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Sikh further divided by substratas of caste and ancient prejudices, yet kept together by strict rules of family behavior and spiritual rituals. Finally, there's a very real current of danger running through the narrative that explodes into violence and irrevocable change. With remarkable dexterity, Mukherjee depicts tradition and myth colliding with the free will and dynamics of a one-world economy. Winner of the NBCC Award for The Middleman, Mukherjee has always been considered a significant writer. Here she bursts out as a star. 5-city author tour. (Mar. 31)Forecast: Mukherjee's perspective on the two societies she straddles is sharp and candid. Since she hasn't published a novel in several years, review attention and handselling should help this book find a discerning audience.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It was a wonderful book and her writing style is beautiful.
Katrina D. Mukherjee
The ending is more disappointing than the plots lead to it, and makes even less sense.
Tara, the main character, is not entirely likeable at first.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
With one of the all-time great opening chapters, a traditional Hindu marriage of a five-year-old girl, Mukherjee establishes her themes, conflicts, and contrasts. Amidst the lyrical, atmospheric details of flickering oil lamps, the impenetrable jungle, banks of fog, and smoke from cooking fires, she inserts the singular detail of retching coughs from tuberculosis, suddenly shocking the reader and abruptly signaling that this is not a novel which will sugarcoat reality. And when the bride's and groom's families differ in interpreting the events which occur on the way to the ceremony and the bride ends up married to a tree, "It seems all the sorrow of history, all that is unjust in society and cruel in religion has settled on her."

Tara Chatterjee, the main character and a descendant of the tree bride, is an orthodox Bengali Brahmin from a well-known Hindu family, someone who accepted without question the groom her father chose for her and who settled in the U.S. when he established a business in California. Now a woman in her mid-thirties residing in Atherton, California, she is divorced, raising her son alone, living with a red-haired biker, and teaching kindergarten. When a stranger, Christopher Dey, arrives at her house claiming to be the illegitimate son of one of her older sisters, she is shocked and forced to contend with the issues he raises, while facing possible dangers, as she tries to check out his story.

The contrasts between life in Calcutta and Atherton, between her ex-husband and her lover, and between her traditional, protected life in India and her free and independent life in the U.S.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Tammi L. Coles on October 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
I am the moderator for a Washington, D.C. literature discussion group, and am writing to share our thoughts on the book. With one strong exception, group members liked the book and would recommend it to others. The consensus was that it was well written, some parts were laugh-out-loud funny, and those who have read other Indian writers might recognize Desirable Daughters within that post-colonial style.

We all agreed, however, that the author may have covered too much territory on the immigration story -- entrepreneurship, religion, education, parenting, cultural values, gender and patriarchy, class, Western vs. East Asian ideology, etc. etc. There was sooo much there that one person pointed out that it seemed to be more a collection of short stories than a unified novel. Another person suggested that a strong editor could have helped her better narrow her focus to a key storyline (even though we disagreed on which of those story lines would have been the best read).

The multiple stories also meant that there was weak character development. All of us did not like the "illegitimate son" story introduced by the Christopher Dey character. It read like a poorly scripted "whodunit." Further, new characters appeared in the book simply to introduce a subject matter, like homosexuality or the role of the police in immigrant communities. There was no denying that the writing was compelling -- I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the Tree Bride, a character thread that she has continued into a just-released book of the same title. However, many of those threads were not neatly tied together in the end, including the thin thread tying together the Tree Bride-Tara and the modern day Tara.

In summary, Desirable Daughters is a good read, if you read it as a collection of enjoyable vignettes and do not place too much emphasis on deeply plumbed characters.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This clear-eyed tale of Tara Chatterjee begins in an unlikely place, a forest lit by oil lamps in 1879 as a five-year old bride is led on a palanquin to marry a tree, an ingenious ceremony designed to protect her honor. It soon becomes clear that the narrator of this strange event (and the novel as a whole) is Tara Chatterjee, a divorced single mother living in San Francisco who was named after the Tree-Bride. Tara comes from a prestigious Calcutta family, the Bhattacharjees, the youngest daughter of three, and can trace her ancestry back to the five-year old bride. Now a school aide living with a Buddhist carpenter, Tara's life goes against everything she was raised to be. The only constant is her emotional devotion to her family. When a suspicious man shows up claiming to be the illegitimate son of her oldest sister, however, Tara's understanding of both her sister and the world is shaken. Danger and secrets lurk everywhere, and Tara finds herself alone in the middle of a crowded society as she searches for both truth and security.
This complicated novel examines with startling honesty the prejudices. ambitions, familial ties, and the culture of India primarily as they manifest themselves in contemporary America. Mukherjee accomplishes this tapestry through the likeable, trustworthy voice of Tara. The result is an intimate portrait of a woman in transition. Mukherjee throws out exoticism for candidness, relying not on lyrical prose but on insight. For these reasons, DESIRABLE DAUGHTERS is a refreshing addition to the canon of contemporary Indian literature.
The major flaw of this novel is the contrived full-circle ending. Mukherjee is absolutely brilliant up to this point, and manages to pull off potentially melodramatic material in a sensitive, believable manner.
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More About the Author

Award-winning Indian-born American author Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta (now called Kolkata) in 1940, the second of three daughters born to Bengali-speaking, Hindu Brahmin parents. She lived in a house crowded with 40 or 50 relatives until she was eight, when her father's career brought the family to live in London for several years.

She returned to Calcutta in the early 1950s where she attended the Loreto School. She received her B.A. from the University of Calcutta in 1959 as a student of Loreto College, and earned her M.A. from the University of Baroda in 1961. She next travelled to the United States to study at the University of Iowa, where she received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1963 and her Ph.D. in 1969 from the department of Comparative Literature.

After more than a decade living in Montreal and Toronto in Canada, Mukherjee and her husband, internationally acclaimed author Clark Blaise, returned to the United States. She wrote of the decision in "An Invisible Woman," published in a 1981 issue of "Saturday Night." Mukherjee and Blaise co-authored "Days and Nights in Calcutta (1977) and "The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy (Air India Flight 182)" (1987).
Mukherjee taught at McGill University, Skidmore College, Queens College, and City University of New York. She is currently a professor in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mukherjee is best known for her novels "The Tiger's Daughter" (1971); "Wife" (1975); "Jasmine" (1989); "The Holder of the World" (1993); "Leave It to Me" (1997); "Desirable Daughters" (2002); "The Tree Bride" (2004); and "Miss New India" (2011). Her short story collections and memoirs include "Darkness" (1985); "The Middleman and Other Stories" (1988); and "A Father". Non Fiction works include: "Days and Nights in Calcutta"; and "The Sorrow and the Terror."

She was the winner of the 1988 National Book Critics Circle Award for "The Middleman and Other Stories."

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