'Jasmine' by Bharati Mukherjee (1989)

I read this novel because I was feeling spiteful toward two pompous and supercilious poets who visited my campus recently and said that Mukherjee, when she interviewed for a position at the university at which they work, seemed arrogant and unwilling to connect with students. Despite the superficial motivations behind the reading, I enjoyed the novel. I was disappointed when Mukherjee switched from the non-linear narrative structure of the first few chapters to the more linear style of the main character’s journey from India to the United States. Though I suppose that decision was effective in that my desire to read more about Jane and Du’s relationship kept me reading through the India section, which I did not like as much.

Several times in the novel the narrator speaks of her ability to adapt to different situations, but I perceived her as malleable rather than adaptable. I suppose she was adaptable in that she managed to survive, but the men in her life seemed to shape her identity more than she did. Just by naming alone, her men created Jasmine, Jase, and Jane. Her narrative voice as Jane sounds the most self-possessed, self-assured of all of her incarnations, but at the end of the novel I was uncertain of whether she would not retreat into Jase. But perhaps Jane herself does not know either.

She makes an odd statement at one point in the novel, saying that she has had a husband for each of her incarnations: “Prakash for Jasmine, Taylor for Jase, Bud for Jane. Half-Face for Kali.” There is a very significant period in the midst of that quotation. Kali is the only name in that list which the narrator gives herself. Kali, the terrible mother goddess of the Hindu pantheon with whom Shiva is constantly struggling to keep the universe existing. Kali had a rapist for a “husband.” Just as Prakash, Taylor and Bud molded her more docile identities as Jasmine, Jase and Jane, so did Half-Face create Kali but he did not name her.

[small voice]Does it increase my dork index by substantial amounts that I like Mukherjee’s last name a lot because it has three syllables composed of three letters each?[/small voice]