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Mukherjee, Bharati


Nationality: Canadian. Born: Calcutta, India, 27 July 1940; became Canadian citizen, 1972. Education: Loreto Convent School, Calcutta; University of Calcutta, B.A. (honors) in English 1959; University of Baroda, Gujarat, M.A. 1961; University of Iowa, Iowa City, M.F.A. 1963; Ph.D. 1969. Family: Married Clark Blaise, q.v., in 1963; two sons. Career: Instructor in English, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1964-65, and University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1965; lecturer, 1966-69, assistant professor, 1969-73, associate professor, 1973-78, and professor, 1978, McGill University, Montreal. Professor, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York; associate professor, Montclair State College, New Jersey, 1984-87; Queen's College, City University of New York, Flushing, 1987-89; professor, University of California, Berkeley, 1990-95. Awards: Canada Arts Council grant, 1973, 1977; Guggenheim fellowship, 1977; National Book Critics Circle award, 1989; Pushcart prize, 1999. Agent: Timothy Seldes, Russell and Volkening, 551 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10017, U.S.A.



The Tiger's Daughter. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1972; London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.

Wife. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1975; London, Penguin, 1987.

Jasmine. New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1989; London, Virago Press, 1990.

The Holder of the World. New York, Knopf, and Chatto and Windus, 1993.

Leave It to Me. New York, Knopf, 1997.

Short Stories

Darkness. Toronto, Penguin, 1985.

The Middleman and Other Stories. New York, Grove Press, 1988;London, Virago Press, 1989.



Days and Nights in Calcutta, with Clark Blaise, 1991.


Kautilya's Concept of Diplomacy: A New Interpretation. Calcutta, Minerva, 1976.

Days and Nights in Calcutta, with Clark Blaise. New York, Doubleday, 1977; London, Penguin, 1986.

The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy, with Clark Blaise. Toronto, Viking, 1987.

Political Culture and Leadership in India: A Study of West Bengal. New Delhi, India, Mittal Publications, 1991.


Critical Studies:

Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson, New York, Garland Press, 1993; Bharati Mukherjee by Fakrul Alam, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1996; The Fiction of Bharati Mukherjee: A Critical Symposium, edited by R.K. Dhawan, New Delhi, Prestige, 1996.

* * *

Bharati Mukherjee is a versatile writer whose oeuvre includes five novels, two collections of short stories, some powerful essays, and two nonfiction books which she co-authored with her husband Clark Blaise. Her early work led to her being seen as a writer firmly enclosed in the bosom of Indian writing in English. But this was an embrace that Mukherjee herself sought to avoid. With the publication of Darkness, her third book of fiction, she convincingly declared her desire to be seen as a North American writer. In the hard-hitting introduction to this collection of stories Mukherjee explains this shift as "a movement away from the aloofness of expatriation, to the exuberance of immigration."

Mukherjee's early novels, The Tiger's Daughter and Wife, both published in the early 1970s, are novels about the isolation of Indian expatriates. A reading of Days and Nights in Calcutta reveals that there is a strong autobiographical element in A Tiger's Daughter. Tara Banerjee, like the Bharati Mukherjee of Days and Nights in Calcutta, is an outsider in India because of her decision to leave the subcontinent, to live in North America, and to marry an American, mleccha (outcaste) husband. On her return, Tara sees India through the eyes of a Western imagination rather than through her own childhood eyes. Her sense of alienation in Calcutta is symbolized by her regular visits to the Catelli-Continental Hotel, from where she views the turmoil of Calcutta from the safe heights of a tourist, cut off from the "real" India which seethes below her. Tara is no longer able to feel a part of her family, who belong to an old Bengal which is now lost to her, nor is she able to feel at ease with her old friends who, like her family, belong to a Calcutta which is rapidly fading, and who, in their different ways are as isolated as Tara from the beast beneath them. On another level, The Tiger's Daughter is an interesting response to E.M. Forster's A Passage to India.

The theme of expatriation and isolation which is handled with such assurance in The Tiger's Daughter is again treated in her second novel. In Wife, Dimple Dasgupta is married off to a young engineer, and soon finds herself emigrating to America. She finds her new life impossible to adjust to, and her attempts to become Americanto learn to speak American-English by watching the television, for examplecause her to question her own cultural values, and even her own happiness. These are questions she might never have asked herself in Calcutta, and had she done so and found herself equally disillusioned, her solution, the novel suggests, would probably have been suicide. The infidelity and the murder which brings the novel to its shocking close are the alternatives with which Dimple's American experience has provided her.

Darkness is an important landmark for Mukherjee. It is in this book, her first collection of stories, that she begins to exchange the robes of an Indian expatriate writer for the new, but not borrowed robes of a North American writer who is an immigrant. The specifically Canadian stories in this collection continue to explore the painful world of the expatriate she writes about in Wife indeed the story "Visitors" is a re-working of the essential elements of that novel. Other stories, though, explore North America through the alien voices of its various immigrant culturesItalian, Latin American, Sri Lankan, as well as Indian. With The Middleman and Other Stories Mukherjee's exchange of mantles is complete. In these stories, sometimes with anger, often with violence, sometimes with comedy, often with tenderness, Mukherjee gives voice to the "other" within North America. The result is a broader, more detailed portrait of the North American immigrant experience than Wife or even the impressive stories in Darkness provide. "The Management of Grief," which deals with the sorrow of the bereaved relatives of the victims of the 1985 Air India disaster, is perhaps the most moving story in the collection. The horror of that tragedy is dealt with in harrowing detail in Mukherjee's second nonfiction collaboration, The Sorrow and the Terror.

After a gap of fourteen years, Mukherjee made a welcome return to the novel form with the publication of Jasmine, which explores female identity through the story of an Indian peasant woman whose path takes her from the Punjab, to Florida, to New York, to Iowa, and as the novel draws to a close she is about to set off for California. With each new move the protagonist reinvents herself with a new nameJyoti, Jasmine, Jase, Janeand with each new name she moves closer to her dream of being an American, of belonging to the New World. Jasmine's ongoing journey is an effective device which highlights her rootless position and her search for identity. The move to California, which resonates with hope and invests her with the aspirations of America's early pioneers, suggests that Jasmine has finally found her identity in America, which, perhaps more than any other country, can contain her many identities without contradiction.

In The Holder of the World, her most accomplished work to date, Mukherjee turns her attention to one of the founding novels of the postcolonial American canonNathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Reversing the usual binary opposition between occidental and oriental texts, Mukherjee presents Hawthorne's novel as one which has been written out of a knowledge of India. And in doing this Mukherjee has written herself (as an American whose roots are in India) into her text perhaps more effectively even than in the seemingly autobiographical The Tiger's Daughter. The novel is also interesting for the way it very subtly parodies the Western construct of India as a nation and the perception of Indians as a homogenous group.

In Mukherjee's most recent novel, Leave It to Me, some of the themes of her earlier fictionnotably identity and dislocationare again important. And as in Jasmine, the central character of this novel goes through a series of incarnations as she is abandoned in India by her American hippie mother and Eurasian father, raised in Schenectady, New York, by her adoptive Italian-American parents, and then (in classic road movie style) moves to San Francisco to look for her birth mother. This novel is Mukherjee's most American work: an enigmatic and alarming meditation on the consequences of the America's recent pastthe hippie culture of the 1960s, Vietnamrather than a novel of dislocation in the diasporic sense of her earlier fiction. In this novel Mukherjee's shift from immigrant diasporic writer to multicultural writer is complete. However, it may be that Mukherjee has moved too far. Few of the characters are as convincing as those who populated her earlier works, and at times the level of coincidence works against this novelas when, in a moment of epiphany, Debby reinvents herself as Devi Dee, without realizing that she has taken the name of the goddess after whom the Indian village of Devigaon, where she was born, is named.

Bharati Mukherjee is a writer who is at her best when she draws on her experiences of the Old World while writing with insight about the New World to which she now belongs. Her more recent books, particularly The Holder of the World, confirm that hers is an original voice at the cutting edge of American immigrant/multicultural literature.

Ralph J. Crane

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Blaise, Clark (Lee)

BLAISE, Clark (Lee)

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Fargo, North Dakota, United States, 10 April 1940; became Canadian citizen, 1973. Education: Denison University, Granville, Ohio, 1957-61, A.B. 1961; University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1962-64, M.F.A. 1964. Family: Married Bharati Mukherjee, q.v., in 1963; two sons. Career: Acting instructor, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1964-65; teaching fellow, University of Iowa, 1965-66; lecturer, 1966-67, assistant professor, 1967-69, associate professor, 1969-72, and professor of English, 1973-78, Sir George Williams University, later Concordia University, Montreal; professor of Humanities, York University, Toronto, 1978-80; Professor of English, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1980-81, 1982-83. Visiting lecturer or writer-in-residence, University of Iowa, 1981-82, Saskatchewan School of the Arts, Saskatoon, Summer 1983, David Thompson University Centre, Nelson, British Columbia, Fall 1983, Emory University, Atlanta, 1985, Bennington College, Vermont, 1985, Columbia University, New York, Spring 1986, and New York State Writers Institute, Sarasota Springs, New York, Summer 1994 and 1995; exchange professor, Meiji University, Japan, 1994. Currently, adjunct professor, Columbia University, New York. Awards: University of Western Ontario President's medal, for short story, 1968; Great Lakes Colleges Association prize, 1973; Canada Council grant, 1973, 1977, and travel grant, 1985; St. Lawrence award, 1974; Fels award, for essay, 1975; Asia Week award, for non-fiction, 1977; Books in Canada prize, 1979; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1981; Guggenheim grant, 1983. D. Litt.: Denison University, 1979. Agent: Janklow and Nesbit, 598 Madison Ave., New York, New York 10022.



Lunar Attractions. New York, Doubleday, 1979.

Lusts. New York, Doubleday, 1983.

If I Were Me. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1997.

Short Stories

New Canadian Writing 1968, with Dave Godfrey and David LewisStein. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1969.

A North American Education. Toronto and New York, Doubleday, 1973.

Tribal Justice. Toronto and New York, Doubleday, 1974.

Personal Fictions, with others, edited by Michael Ondaatje. Toronto, Oxford Unversity Press, 1977.

Resident Alien. Toronto and New York, Penguin, 1986.

Man and His World. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1992.



Days and Nights in Calcutta, with BharatiMukherjee, 1991.


Days and Nights in Calcutta, with Bharati Mukherjee. New York, Doubleday, 1977; London, Penguin, 1986.

The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy, with Bharati Mukherjee. Toronto, Viking, 1987.

I Had a Father. New York, Addison-Wesley, 1993.

Editor, with John Metcalf, Here and Now. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1977.

Editor, with John Metcalf, 78 [ 79, 80 ]: Best Canadian Stories. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 3 vols., 1978-1980.


Manuscript Collection:

Calgary University Library, Alberta.

Critical Studies:

On the Line, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 1982, and Another I: The Fiction of Clark Blaise, ECW Press, 1988, both by Robert Lecker; article by Blaise in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series 3 edited by Adele Sarkissian, Detroit, Gale, 1986.

Clark Blaise comments:

(1981) My fiction is an exploration of threatened space; the space has been geographically and historically defined as French-Canada and French-America (New England), as well as extremely isolated areas of the deep South. Most of my fiction has been concerned with the effects of strong and contrasting parents, with the memory of Europe and of Canada, and the very oppressive reality, rendered minutely, of America. I am concerned with nightmare, terror, violence, sexual obsession, and the various artistic transformations of those drives. The tone of the work is not gothic or grotesque, however; I am devoted to the close observation of the real world, and to hold the gaze long enough to make the real world seem distorted. My work is also involved with the growth of the mind, the coming on of ideas about itself and the outside world. I would agree with critics who see my work as courting solipsism, and much of my own energy is devoted to finding ways out of the vastness of the first person pronoun.

* * *

Clark Blaise's short stories and novels are marked by their preoccupation with the tensions between a host of metaphorical extremes. Blaise is attracted to raw experience, spontaneous impulse, grotesque realism, uncultured thought: simultaneously, he is a polymath who needs reason, order, intellect, and learning in order to survive. For Blaise, these two worlds can never coincide; yet his fiction is driven by the strategies he employs in his attempt to make them coincide. The most obvious strategy involves doubling and superimposition. Blaise's characters are often two-sided, and their stories detail, through extended use of archetype and symbol, a profound desire to discover an integrated and authentic self. A list of the authors who influenced Blaiseincluding Pascal, Flaubert, Proust, Faulkner, and Célinesuggests that his work is philosophical, realistic, epic, eschatological, and existential. It is important to note this range, if only because Blaise has been viewed as a purely realistic writer involved with the tragic implications of his age. This perspective seems curious when one considers the extent to which Blaise's stories become self-conscious explorations of their own mode of articulation. Their ultimate reality is internal, psychological, personal, and self-reflective. To trace Blaise's growing preoccupation with this self-reflective mode is to describe the evolution of his fiction.

A North American Education, Blaise's first collection of linked short stories, is marked by the multi-leveled revelation of the fears, obsessions, and aesthetic values informing its three central narrators. In the final group of tales"The Montreal Stories"Norma Dyer begins to comment on the cosmopolitan milieu he inhabits from the removed and condescending perspective of an intellectual elitist who appears to be in full, if arrogant, control. But as the three stories comprising this section develop, panic sets in; the distanced third-person perspective of the opening eventually gives way to a revealingly fragmented first-person mode that details Dyer's personal and narrative collapse as he confesses that "I who live in dreams have suffered something real, and reality hurts like nothing in the world." In the "Keeler Stories" we hear the confessions of "a writer, a creator" who "would learn to satisfy himself with that." But here, as in the closing "Thibidault Stories," Blaise makes it clear that his narrators will never be satisfied with their creations, or with themselves. Yet they continue to deceive themselves in the belief that "anything dreamt had to become real, eventually."

The dreams shared by Blaise's narrators are always highly symbolic and archetypal in form, a conclusion supported by even the most cursory reading of Blaise's second short story collection, Tribal Justice. Here, in some of his richest and most evocative fiction, Blaise returns again and again to his narrators' meditations on their art. If there is a paradigmatic Blaise storyone that reveals the various tensions I have describedit is surely "Grids and Doglegs." It begins with its narrator recalling his interest in creativity, maps, education, history, archaeology, and cultural life; but no sooner is this interest articulated than it is ruthlessly undercut by hints of isolation and impending doom. Other storiesI think particularly of "Notes Beyond a History" and "At the Lake"are framed by the same kind of divided opening, and by the same suggestion that the narrator who inhabits that opening is psychologically split.

Blaise's first two books established him as one of the finest short story writers in Canada at the very time he decided to explore a different genre. While Lunar Attractions proved that Blaise could master the novel form, it also demonstrated that his fundamental attraction to self-reflective writing remained central to his art. After all, Lunar Attractions is a semi-autobiographical account of a writer's development: David Greenwood insists on seeing himself in every aspect of his creation, so much so that his fiction becomes an intricate confession about his failure to get beyond himself. Yet Lunar Attractions is by no means purely solipsistic: it is a book about our times, about growing up in our times, and about the symbols and systems we use to explain our lives. Blaise has written that he wanted "to create the portrait of the authentically Jungian or even Freudian whole mind," which "sees every aspect of the natural and historical world being played out in its own imagination, and it literally creates the world that it sees."

These words suggest that for Blaise the writer can never be merely a recorder or even the interpreter of events. He must give form to experience and must be responsible to that form. The nature of this responsibility is the focus of Blaise's second novel, Lusts. Here the nature of writing is explored through Richard Durgin's struggle to understand the suicide of his wife, a successful poet who challenged Durgin's assumptions about the social and political implications of art.

If Rachel is Richard's "other self" then her death is doubly significant: it suggests that Blaise may have overcome the personal divisions that kept his successive narrators from becoming whole. Does this mean that he has found the integrated self he has sought throughout his work? A forthcoming volume of autobiographical essays may answer this question. But Blaise has written autobiography beforemost notably in Days and Nights in Calcutta only to return to the story of his personal and aesthetic search. The search is essential to his art, for the quality of his writingits permutations, obsessions, and complex use of voiceis tragically dependent on Blaise's constant inability to find himself or his final story.

Robert Lecker

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