Book Review: Desirable Daughters

” What is the value of the passing moment?” he asked. ”What is the value of groups marked for extinction?”

”Their beauty,” I answered without hesitation.

Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee is a story about a traditional Brahmin Bengali woman, who has broken all her customs but still remains tied to her native country. Tara Bhattacharjee is married to a Silicon Valley genius, Bish, handpicked by her Father. Her other two sisters, Padma and Parvati are both married happily and living across the world. Through good and bad times, they stick together. But otherwise, don’t expect Bhattacharjee sisters to mingle with each other all the time.

Desirable Daughters opens with a story about a Tree Bride, Taralata who rose to be a prominent figure in the history of Indian Independence. Soon to be married, Taralata’s would be husband is killed due to a snake bite. And the blame comes on her for being inauspicious and vile. To keep the honor of the family and her daughter’s name, Taralata’s father marries her off to a tree, bestowing her with the title of Tree Bride, who lived alone, virginal and powerful at the end, fighting against the Britishers for freedom of her country.

Then, the story cuts off to Tara, who is firmly established in San Francisco, divorced and raising a teenage son, Rabi all by her herself. Working as a teacher and dating a balding red-bearded Hungarian former biker and Buddhism follower, Andy, Tara has broken all customs of her country, her Bengali culture and most of all, the Bhattacharjee name. But a sudden complication makes her revisit her roots again. A stranger pays her a visit at her place, who is intimidating and has the cruelest intentions in mind for her.

Nostalgia hits her back to the time when she was unmarried and living with her family in Calcutta and most of all her relationship with her sisters. She needs to demystify this stranger, Christopher Dey, who can cause trouble in her family and in the process, she meets herself again.

Overall, the book is pretty interesting and keeps you engaged with Tara in discovering the secret of this stranger. The only problem, the story-line goes off the board at a lot of places. Sometimes you won’t be able to keep track of it and have to turn around a few pages to realize where you are in the book exactly. The book shows Bengali culture mushroomed in San Francisco and other cities deeply, which is pretty impressive and author’s forte too. You cannot compete with that kind of information loading in a text. Bharati Mukherjee is confident and visual enough in writing about the culture but slips away in places when it comes to the background story line.

My favorite character of the book turned out to Bish. A successful businessman who parted ways with her wife, understanding the need of the situation but supporting her all the time. Not because they have a kid together but because he wants to keep an unbreakable bond always. I loved the part where he comes back to Tara and help her come over her troubles with Christopher Dey.

I liked Desirable Daughters, but it is not that a great book. It opened up to a great note describing the tree bride, Taralata, but ended on a very distasteful note. I would have loved some other climax for the story but what I read is not that half bad. I recommend it to all, but then reading between lines is suggested.

Looking forward to Bharati Mukherjee’s other books.

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