BookBrowse Reviews Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

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Miss New India

A Novel

by Bharati Mukherjee

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2012, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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The story of a young woman who flees her family in rural India to reinvent herself in Bangalore

Like many fictional characters who have experienced setbacks, Anjali Bose would love to reinvent her life. At nineteen, the green-eyed, youngest daughter of a Bengali couple flees her family after an attempt at arranged marriage results in violence. She subsequently protects herself from the emotional fallout by adopting her anglicized persona, "Angie," while shedding traces of her rural upbringing.

Arriving in Bangalore as the protogé of tutor Peter Champion, she soon takes up residence in the Raj-era Bagehot home, a boarding house for working women, where she finds difficulty befriending anyone. Events gradually overwhelm her - from the public ransacking and dismantlement of a colonial institution, a case of identity theft and a family member's death to a new romantic involvement - and Angie must depend on others to help her find her way through.

Although Mukherjee's work begins with the familiar plot of a daughter who is not enthused by her parents' decisions about her future, the author is careful not to allow generational differences to serve as simple catalysts for trouble. Miss New India is more than a summation of "traditional" versus "modern" ideals; indeed, after the first several chapters, her family remains peripheral, and the conflict between Angie and her parents is resolved, though not healed, by avoiding the issue.

The author is instead concerned with portraying the gray area between the end of childhood and the beginning of independence. Her perspective on the unsettling years after completing an education but before finding meaningful employment is all the more invigorating when set against a glitzy city that draws out vulnerabilities in Angie's character. Angie is a calculating, veteran procrastinator; restless; insecure; eager to emulate the trendsetting lives of her peers; essentially pragmatic, though prone to rashness; easily flattered; overly trusting; and very intelligent. This perilous yet understandable combination of personality traits is shared by many similarly enterprising young women and will likely ring true to many readers.

For example, in one memorable and discomforting scene, Angie recklessly volunteers personal information during the course of a job interview, highlighting her struggle to maintain an unwavering mask of competence, her tendency to "wing it" and, perhaps most of all, the unusual and unique flair that ultimately draws the attention of others.

As one of several "Miss New Indias" (a term coined by a fictional newspaper columnist in the book), Angie is part of a rising generation of women who:

...arrive by plane, by train, even by intercity bus. They come from the great cities and the mofussil towns... They represent all religions, all languages. They come bearing school-leaving certificates, letters of reference from old teachers, but most important, bearing hope and energy that is infectious.

Mukherjee deftly details the transition from Angie's idea of adult singlehood to a more tempered version of what "freedom" truly entails. That Angie transcends the move to Bangalore through a combination of luck and the kindness of others rather than through determined work, may leave some readers questioning whether she is a genuinely strong character; she could easily be misread as a self-involved person who turns others toward her favor only when her own foolhardy decisions lead to problems. But Mukherjee balances the more adolescent moments in Angie's journey with flashes of maturity. She also raises worthy questions of betrayal and resilience with compassion toward her protagonist.

Miss New India provides an entertaining, sobering look at how a young woman's crisis results in the knowledge that, despite her fears, she possesses all the resources needed to thrive.

Reviewed by Karen Rigby

This review was originally published in June 2011, and has been updated for the June 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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