Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee #BookReview

Cover of "Jasmine" by Bharati Mukherjee
Cover of “Jasmine” by Bharati Mukherjee

Something that I enjoy when I read stories about people who have immigrated is to see how their identities change as they go from place to place. This transformation of character belies an unshakable strength that escapes many people who stay stagnant all their lives.

In Bharati Mukherjee’s novel Jasmine, the main character, Jyoti, transforms several times within the book to survive. Jyoti’s story shows the immigrant’s struggle and the danger of being female while immigrating.

For the immigrant woman, the threat of being denied her agency and personhood is much higher than for their male counterparts. Sadly, women face the danger of being sex trafficked, raped, and a slew of other dangers as they make the journey to a better life that is often not faced by men. Mind you, this isn’t to say a male immigrant’s path to a new life is riddled with ease, but Mukherjee places emphasis on the difference in her female character’s struggle to pin down their identities. This left me questioning how different subgroups of immigrants build their identities once they start their new lives.

Author, Bharati Mukherjee
Author, Bharati Mukherjee

It would seem that the author also wanted to prove a point about the flexibility of women vs. men as they move into their new lives. According to Mukherjee in a 1990 interview with the Iowa Review, women are more likely to be the family member who has to go out into the community when the family arrives to speak on behalf of their families. By doing these things, they can build ties to their new homes. 

Men often spend time living in the past and remembering their homes fondly, which can sometimes hinder their progress toward building new ties with their current community. This was an interesting argument because it’s a point that Mukherjee makes about Punjabi men who have immigrated and the American men who still long for the “glory days” of their country.

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If I had to choose a book I’d recommend to read after Jasmine to showcase how immigration intersects with women and those who are impoverished, Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid is an excellent follow-up to Mukherjee’s book.

Book cover of "Lucy" by Jamaica Kincaid

In Lucy, Kincaid explores the vapid and consumeristic undertones of American culture through the eyes of her teenaged protagonist. Fleeing her British-ruled Caribbean island, Lucy Potter, a nineteen-year-old au pair, comes to New York to take care of an upper-class White couple’s children. Lucy goes through all the steps of disillusionment with her life in America after having dreamed of escaping her island life and colonialism in general.

Where Jyoti in Jasmine comes to America and seems to insert herself wherever she goes seamlessly, Lucy questions ev-ery-thing she sees and all those around her. And this singular decimation of the world Lucy inhabits is why I love this book.

Lucy is for you if you’re a lover of books where there is an exploration of character and heavy emphasis on internal dialogue. Be warned, though, Lucy is not a “go with the flow” type of character. Kincaid’s writing is definitely not about smoothing the way for a reader to have a “feel-good experience.” You will feel everything about this slim volume, and like Jasmine, you will think about the main character long after you close the book.

Tell me what books have left you thinking about the characters well after closing the book in the comment section.

The Struggle to “Find Yourself” as a Teen: Book Review for Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”Rebecca SolnitMen Explain Things to Me

On #InternationalWomensDay, I want to give a hearty shout out to all the women in the world that are taking up space and existing in the world. Give yourself a hug for all you’ve done and will do in this coming week!

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In February, I read Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins. As a total read, this book was a hard one to get through due to subject matter, but also because of the pacing and choice of medium. Perkins writes this book as if it were a script in omnipotent third person narration. 

The general premise is that there are two teenagers, Kat and Ravi, who are both questioning their current existence and eventually travel to Kolkata, India to do mission work with an organization that traffics women. Kat is a mixed race girl of Afro-Latinx and white heritage. Her story starts from the point of her being sexually assaulted and forced to leave her school in California and move to Boston as a way of getting away from environmental triggers that remind her of her attack. Sadly, her story will be familiar to many women in the #MeTooMovement or #TimesUp era. 

Mitali Perkins

Ravi on the other hand is an adopted Indian boy that lives in Boston with his white parents, who adore him. Ravi has the feeling that there is something missing. Quiet, and seemingly only good with fixing cars, he is a background player in his own life. Determined to find the mother that abandoned him, Ravi attempts signs up for the mission trip in India and it leads him into a better understanding of himself and how he fits into his world.

While each of Perkins’ characters are well-written, I went in expecting to love the book, but ended up feeling uncomfortable reading it due to the odd choice to make the story appear as if it was a movie with each chapter heading. I have read other books from this author and loved them, but this one just wasn’t for me. I definitely could imagine it as a movie though.

I gave it 3 stars.

Where there any books in your February reading list that you would have turned into a movie if you had the chance?