Desirable Daughters, by the prolific writer Bharati Mukherjee, whose short story collection The Middleman won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award, is a masterful meditation on marriage and family ties. It begins on a fantastic note: on a winter night in an east Bengali village in 1879, the narrator’s ancestor, five-year-old Tara Lata, is married to a tree after her thirteen-year-old husband-to-be dies of a snakebite on their wedding day. The novel ends some 120 years later, when Tara, the thirty-six-year-old narrator, returns to this same village in winter with her teenaged son. Like her ancestor, Tara Bhattacharjee is the youngest of three sisters of a Brahmin family. Although they grew up in Calcutta, Tara and the oldest sister now live in America while the middle sister lives in Bombay. Tara was married (in an arranged marriage) at age nineteen to Bish Chatterjee, a genius who makes a fortune from a cutting-edge computer process. He and Tara are estranged when the novel opens, but when a stranger claiming kinship shows up at the house that Tara shares in San Francisco with her son and her boyfriend, she reconsiders her assumptions about her entire family. In the course of the novel, a sister’s secret and a murder are uncovered, and a near-fatal bombing occurs. Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters is yet another of her magically written, compelling novels.
Bharati gives an overview of the book:
Of Bengali origin, Bharati Mukherjee was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, India. She later traveled with her parents to Europe after Independence, only returning to Calcutta in the early 1950s. There she attended the Loreto School, Kolkata. She received her Bachelor of Arts...