Summary and book reviews of Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee

Desirable Daughters

A Novel

by Bharati Mukherjee

Desirable Daughters
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2002, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2003, 320 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A stirring novel of three women, two continents, and a perilous journey from the old world to the new - weaves together fascinating stories of the sisters' ancestors, their childhood memories, and dramatic scenes from India's history.

From one of our most respected writers of fiction comes a stirring novel of three women, two continents, and a perilous journey from the old world to the new.

At the heart of this remarkable new novel by the award-winning author of The Middleman and Other Stories and Jasmine are issues of culture, identity, and familial loyalty. Comparable to The Joy Luck Club in its honest portrayal of the American immigrant experience, Desirable Daughters follows the diverging paths taken by three Calcutta-born sisters as they come of age in a changing world.

Tara, Padma, and Parvati were born into a wealthy Brahmin family presided over by their doting father and his traditionalist mother. Intelligent and artistic, the girls are nevertheless constrained by a society with little regard for women. Their subsequent rebellion will lead them in different directions, to different continents, and through different circumstances that strain yet ultimately strengthen their relationship.

Moving effortlessly between generations, Mukherjee weaves together fascinating stories of the sisters' ancestors, their childhood memories, and dramatic scenes from India's history.

Chapter One

In the mind's eye, a one-way procession of flickering oil lamps sways along the muddy shanko between rice paddies and flooded ponds, and finally disappears into a distant wall of impenetrable jungle. Banks of fog rise from warmer waters, mingle with smoke from the cooking fires, and press in a dense sooty collar, a permeable gray wall that parts, then seals, igniting a winter chorus of retching coughs and loud spitting. Tuberculosis is everywhere. The air, the water, the soil are septic. Thirty-five years is a long life. Smog obscures the moon and dims the man-made light to faintness deeper than the stars'. In such darkness perspective disappears. It is a two-dimensional world impossible to penetrate. But for the intimacy of shared discomfort, it is difficult even to estimate the space separating each traveler.

The narrow, raised trail stretches ten miles from Mishtigunj town to the jungle's edge. In a palanquin borne by four servants sit a rich man&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What does the title mean, and who are the Desirable Daughters in this story?

  2. What do you learn about Tara and her family through the ancient story of Tara Lata Gangooly?

  3. Examine what Tara means when she says she is "exploring the making of a consciousness. . . . No. Yours." (page 5) Discuss whether or not this is a central theme of the book, and why.

  4. When do you begin to doubt "Chris Dey's" story and why is Tara dismissive of her sister Parvati's take on it?

  5. Why is Andy so off base about Chris Dey and Bish more responsive?

  6. Explore why Didi, who as a child eschewed her family and culture, leads a traditional Bengali life in New Jersey?

  7. On page 33, look at the paragraph beginning "Bengali culture. . . ." ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Elle Magazine

Evocative, richly layered sixth novel.

Time Out, NY

Its real drama lies in the way the three sisters reconcile themselves to clashing values

USA Today

Lyrical and insightful, sharing observations about family that apply to almost all cultures.

Kirkus

A nice hybrid, combining the suspense of a good thriller with the atmosphere and texture of a family epic.

Publishers Weekly

It 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.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Entertaining and intelligent, Mukherjee's graceful novel explores the continuum between tradition and change as it chips away at superficialities to reach the core of human experience.

Library Journal - Joanna M. Burkhardt,

Mukherjee's writing is rich, deep, and compelling, and her characters are well rounded and believable.

Author Blurb Russell Banks
Desirable Daughters, with its broadband vision of history and geography, is [Mukherjee's] finest novel so far.

Author Blurb William Kennedy
A beautifully written family story of the eternal pull of ancient Indian tradition on even the most contemporary of lives.

Author Blurb Robert Olen Butler
Mukherjee is writing achingly compassionate, ravishingly beautiful, absolutely essential books. And Desirable Daughters is one of her best.

Reader Reviews

jean sheridan

A cool blend of Bay Area lifestyle and Indian sensibility. It bogs down in the New York scenes, but picks up for an unexpected flashy finale.

Anonymous

Truthfully, the book was ok. I didn't think that it was all that great. The plot was ok but i kinda thought the whole gang thing was stupid. It was surprising but it didn't fit into the rest of the novel. One thing that I did like about it though was...   Read More

Carla

Desirable Daughters book review
This book just was not that good. The plot was very well developed. Also, ending was very much a let-down. The only thing I found enjoyable about this book is that it went into some detail about Indian culture and idiology, which I must admit is ...   Read More

Ayesha
It had two interesting elements but it focuses more on the duller one. There is not any good character development and so the events that take place do not have an impact on the reader. I felt like the author attempts to make the story suspenseful ...   Read More

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