Paula's Reviews > Jasmine

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
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May 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read in May, 2011

This is a novel that I had placed in my discard pile, but retrieved to re-read after a friend told me she had really liked it. Almost all the way through I was happy to be reading this book again & thinking that I would keep it after all. Acutely post-colonial (as we called such novels 15 years ago) in its point of view, it seems very up to date in its insider understanding of the often bizarrely complex interior and exterior lives of many immigrants, particularly illegal ones from poor countries (an immigrant arriving today from India might be a very different kind of person, with very different life story & motivation, however). I particularly liked Jasmine's thinking about and interaction with Du, her Iowa "husband" Bud's adopted Vietnamese teen age son. The chapter in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed in which she lives & works with illegal immigrants working as hotel maids in Florida came to mind, as Jyoti Vigh aka Jasmine aka Jase aka Jane Ripplemayer arrives in the U.S. by way of Florida, after a squalid boat voyage, rape by the boat's captain in a seedy motel & the murder (by knife) of said rapist. She is rescued by a Quaker woman who helps her on her way to New York City for a couple of years of a dream life working as a "Day Mummy" for Taylor (a physicist & professor at Columbia), Wylie & their precocious & perfect adopted daughter Duff. After Wylie leaves Taylor, Jasmine continues to live with Taylor & Duff until one day she sees her Indian husband's (her first love & lover Prakash) murderer in Central Park & decides to flee to Iowa (where Duff was born). It's here that we find her as the novel opens & where we leave her as she is about to take off for California (newly retrieved by Taylor & Duff). In the meantime she has become the pregnant wife(in all senses other than the legal one) of a small town (Baden, Elsa County) banker, Bud Ripplemayer, during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. [I am wondering, of course, whether Mukherjee once attended the Iowa Writers Workshop] For the past 2 years, Bud has been paralyzed from the waist down after a desperate farmer shot him in the back before blowing his own brains out.
I had a love/ hate response to this book. I really liked it & then finally resented its narrative seduction (drive to conclusion). I wasn't satisfied with the ending. Taylor & Duff arrive. Jasmine is in love & leaves Bud (right after Du has also left for CA). She has told us that Bud was a great guy. Now, he's a cripple (politically incorrect word but useful here) & 30 years older than she is & would be a dead end for Jasmine. What about the baby she's carrying? There's not even a mention of the right or wrongness of taking that baby away with her (it's not yet born). I don't buy the Taylor fantasy. He does little for me. Bud is a better person. Which is not to say that Iowa & Bud make sense for Jasmine, but that she perhaps lets herself off the hook a bit too easily, just as she did when she first became involved with Bud (Karin, Bud's ex-wife asked her then why she never thought to ask Bud if he was married. Jasmine treats this question as irrelevant, since it was Bud who fell in love with her & not her who pursued him. But the question seems quite relevant to me. It's as if Jasmine's own story (poverty, lack of education, murdered husband, rape, murder) allows her (or the author) to rationalize some dubiously ethical decision-making.




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