Jasmineby Bharati Mukherjee
“A fable, a kind of impressionistic prose-poem, about being an exile, a refugee, a spiritual vagabond in the world today; Mukherjee has eloquently succeeded.” –The New York Times
" " " "
One of the best-loved novels from a writer of richness and significance, Jasmine has been acclaimed by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as “artful and arresting . . . breathtaking . . . [Mukherjee] marks with unsparing brilliance the symptoms of a new Third World.”
When Jasmine is suddenly widowed at seventeen, she seems fated to a life of quiet isolation in the small Indian village where she was born. But the force of Jasmine’s desires propels her explosively into a larger, more dangerous, and ultimately more life-giving world. In just a few years, Jasmine becomes Jane Ripplemeyer, happily pregnant by a middle-aged Iowa banker and the adoptive mother of a Vietnamese refugee. Jasmine’s metamorphosis, with its sudden upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her–our new neighbors, friends, and lovers. In Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee has created a heroine as exotic and unexpected as the many worlds in which she lives.
“Rich . . . One of the most suggestive novels we have about what it is to become an American.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Engrossing . . . Mukherjee once again presents all the shock, pain and liberation of exile and transformation….With the uncanny third eye of the artist, Mukherjee forces us to see our country anew.” –USA Today
“A fable, a kind of impressionistic prose-poem, about being an exile, a refugee, a spiritual vagabond in the world today; Mukherjee has eloquently succeeded.” –The New York Times
“A beautiful novel, poetic, exotic, perfectly controlled.” –San Francisco Chronicle
LIFETIMES ago, under a banyan tree in the village of Hasnapur, an astrologer cupped his ears–his satellite dish to the stars–and foretold my widowhood and exile. I was only seven then, fast and venturesome, scabrous-armed from leaves and thorns.
“No!” I shouted. “You’re a crazy old man. You don’t know what my future holds!”
‘suit yourself,” the astrologer cackled. “What is to happen will happen.” Then he chucked me hard on the head.
I fell. My teeth cut into my tongue. A twig sticking out of the bundle of firewood I’d scavenged punched a star-shaped wound into my forehead. I lay still. The astrologer re-entered his trance. I was nothing, a speck in the solar system. Bad times were on their way. I was helpless, doomed. The star bled.
“I don’t believe you,” I whispered.
The astrologer folded up his tattered mat and pushed his feet into rubber sandals. “Fate is Fate.
When Behula’s bridegroom was fated to die of snakebite on their wedding night, did building a steel fortress prevent his death? A magic snake will penetrate solid walls when necessary.”
I smelled the sweetness of winter wildflowers. Quails hopped, hiding and seeking me in the long grass. Squirrels as tiny as mice swished over my arms, dropping nuts. The trees were stooped and gnarled, as though the ghosts of old women had taken root. I always felt the she-ghosts were guarding me. I didn’t feel I was nothing.
“Go join your sisters,” the man with the capacious ears commanded. “A girl shouldn’t be wandering here by herself.” He pulled me to my feet and pointed to the trail that led out of the woods to the river bend.
I dragged my bundle to the river bend. I hated that river bend. The water pooled there, sludgy brown, and was choked with hyacinths and feces from the buffaloes that village boys washed upstream. Women were scouring brass pots with ashes. Dhobis were whomping clothes clean on stone slabs. Housewives squabbled while lowering their pails into a drying well. My older sisters, slow, happy girls with butter-smooth arms, were still bathing on the steps that led down to the river.
“What happened?” my sisters shrieked as they sponged the bleeding star on my forehead with the wetted ends of their veils. “Now your face is scarred for life! How will the family ever find you a husband?”
I broke away from their solicitous grip. “It’s not a scar,” I shouted, “its my third eye.” In the stories that our mother recited, the holiest sages developed an extra eye right in the middle of their foreheads. Through that eye they peered out into invisible worlds. “Now I’m a sage.”
My sisters scampered up the slippery steps, grabbed their pitchers and my bundle of firewood, and ran to get help from the women at the well.
I swam to where the river was a sun-gold haze. I kicked and paddled in a rage. Suddenly my fingers scraped the soft waterlogged carcass of a small dog. The body was rotten, the eyes had been eaten. The moment I touched it, the body broke in two, as though the water had been its glue. A stench leaked out of the broken body, and then both pieces quickly sank.
That stench stays with me. I’m twenty-four now, I live in Baden, Elsa County, Iowa, but every time I lift a glass of water to my lips, fleetingly I smell it. I know what I don’t want to become.
TAYLOR didn’t want me to run away to Iowa. How can anyone leave New York, he said, how can you leave New York, you belong here. Iowa’s dull and it’s flat, he said.
So is Punjab, I said.
You deserve better.
There are many things I deserve, not all of them better. Taylor thought dull was the absence of action, but dull is its own kind of action. Dullness is a kind of luxury.
Taylor was wrong. Iowa isn’t flat, not Elsa County.
It’s a late May afternoon in a dry season and sunlight crests the hillocks like sea foam, then angles across the rolling sea of Lutzes’ ground before snagging on the maples and box elders at the far end of ours. The Lutzes and Ripplemeyers’ fifteen hundred acres cut across a dozen ponds and glacial moraines, back to back in a six-mile swath. The Ripplemeyer land: Bud’s and mine and Du’s. Jane Ripplemeyer has a bank account. So does Jyoti Vijh, in a different city. Bud’s father started the First Bank of Baden above the barbers; now Bud runs it out of a smart low building between Kwik Copy and the new Drug Town.
Bud wants me to marry him, “officially,” he says, before the baby comes. People assume we’re married. He’s a small-town banker, he’s not allowed to do impulsive things. I’m less than half his age, and very foreign. We’re the kind who marry. Going for me is this: he wasn’t in a wheelchair when we met. I didn’t leave him after it happened.
From the kitchen I can see the only Lutz boy, Darrel, work the ground. Darrel looks lost these days, like a little boy, inside the double-wide, air-conditioned cab of a monster tractor. Gene Lutz weighed nearly three hundred pounds and needed every square inch.
This is Darrel’s first planting alone. The wheels of his tractor are plumed with dust as fine as talcum. The contour-plowed fields are quilts in shades of pale green and dry brown. Closer in, where our ground slopes into the Lutzes’, Shadow, Darrel’s huge black dog, picks his way through ankle-high tufts of corn. A farm dog knows not to damage leaves, even when it races ahead after a weasel or a field mouse. The topsoil rising from Shadows paws looks like pockets of smoke.
Last winter Gene and Carol Lutz went to California as they usually did in January, after the money was in and before the taxes were due, and Gene, who was fifty-four years old, choked to death on a piece of Mexican food. He was so heavy Carol couldn’t lift him to do the Heimlich maneuver. The waiters were all illegals who went into hiding as soon as the police were called.
Gene looked after everything for me when Bud was in the hospital. Now Bud wants to do the same for Darrel and the Lutz farm, but he’s not the man he once was. I can look out Mother Ripplemeyer’s back window and not see to the end of our small empire of ownership. Gene used to say to Bud, “Put our farms smack in the middle of the Loop and we’d about reach from Wrigley to Comiskey.”
In our three and a half years together, I have given Bud a new trilogy to contemplate: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. And he has lent me his: Musial, Brock, and Gibson. Bud’s father grew up in southern Iowa, and Gene’s father came from Davenport. Ottumwa got Cardinal broadcasts, and Davenport got the Cubs. Baseball loyalties are passed from fathers to sons. Bud says he’s a Cardinals banker in Cubbie land. He favors speed and execution: he’ll lend to risk takers who’ll plant new crops and try new methods. Gene Lutz went with proven power: corn, beans, and hogs. After a good year, he’d buy himself the latest gadget from the implement dealer: immense tractors with air-conditioned cabs, equipped with stereo tape deck. A typical Cubbie tractor, Bud would joke, all power and no mobility–but he approved the purchase anyhow. Gene even painted an official Cubs logo on its side. I thought it said Ubs. Darrel painted the Hawkeye logo over it.
Darrel has a sister out in San Diego, married to a naval officer. Carol moved to be near her. With all the old Iowans in Southern California, she does not think she’ll be a widow for long. Darrel had a girl living with him last fall, but she left for Texas after the first Alberta Clipper.
Darrel talks of selling, and I don’t blame him. A thousand acres is too much for someone who graduated from Northern Iowa just last summer. He’d like to go to New Mexico, he says, and open up a franchise, away from the hogs and cold and farmers hours. Radio Shack, say. He’s only a year younger than I, but I cannot guess his idea of reality. I treat him as an innocent.
Yesterday he came over for dinner. People are getting used to some of my concoctions, even if they make a show of fanning their mouths. They get disappointed if there’s not something Indian on the table. Last summer Darrel sent away to California for “Oriental herb garden” cuttings and planted some things for me–coriander, mainly, and dill weed, fenugreek and about five kinds of chili peppers. I always make sure to use his herbs.
Last night he said that two fellows had come up from Dalton in Johnson County with plans for putting in a golf course on his father’s farm. Bud told me later that the fellows from Dalton are big developers. With ground so cheap and farmers so desperate, they’re snapping up huge packages for future non-ag use. Airfields and golf courses and water slides and softball parks. It breaks Bud’s heart even to mention it.
Darrel’s pretty worked up about it. They’d have night golf with illuminated fairways. Wednesday nights would be Ladies’ Nights, Thursday nights Stags Only, Friday nights for Couples. They’re copying some kind of golf-course franchise that works out West. The plan is to convert the barn into a clubhouse, with a restaurant and what he calls sports facilities. I’m not sure what they’ll do with the pig house and its built-in reservoir of nightsoil.
“If you’re so set on sticking with a golf course,” Bud said, “why don’t you buy the franchise yourself?”
“I couldn’t stand watching folks tramping down my fields,” he said.
‘so, what’ll you call the club?” I asked Darrel. It didn’t seem such a bad idea. A water slide, a nighttime golf course, tennis courts inside the weathered, slanting barn.
“The Barn,” Darrel said. “I was hoping you’d come up with a prettier name. Something in Indian.” He started blushing. I want to say to Darrel, “You mean in Hindi, not Indian, there’s no such thing as Indian,” but he’ll be crushed and won’t say anything for the rest of the night. He comes from a place where the language you speak is what you are.
The farmers around here are like the farmers I grew up with. Modest people, never boastful, tactful and courtly in their way. A farmer is dependent on too many things outside his control; it makes for modesty. They’re hemmed in by etiquette. When they break out of it, like Harlan Kroener did, you know how terrible things have gotten.
Baden is what they call a basic German community. Even the Danes and Swedes are thought to be genetically unpredictable at times. I’ve heard the word “inscrutable.” The inscrutable Swedes. The sneaky Dutch. They aren’t Amish, but they’re very fond of old ways of doing things. They’re conservative people with a worldly outlook.
At dinner, Bud snapped Darrel’s head off. “What farmer is nuts enough to golf three or four nights a week around here?” he asked.
Darrel tried to joke about it. “Times change. Farmers change. Even Wrigley’s getting lights, Bud.”
Bud’s probably right. Most times he’s right. But being right, having to point out the cons when the borrower wants to hear only the pros, is eating him up. He pops his stomach pills, on top of everything else. Blood pressure, diuretics, all sorts of skin creams. Immobility has made him more excitable. Later that night I tried to calm him down. I said, ‘darrel won’t have to sell. You’ll see, it’ll rain.” Then I took his big pink hand, speckled with golden age spots and silky with reddish blond hairs, and placed it on my stomach. His hair is bushy and mostly white, but once upon a time he was a strawberry blond with bright blue eyes. The eyes are less bright, but still a kind of blue I’ve never seen anywhere else. Purple flecks in a turquoise pond.
I am carrying Bud Ripplemeyer’s baby. He wants me to marry him before the baby is born. He wants to be able to say, Bud and Jane Ripplemeyer proudly announce ”
He hooks his free hand around my neck and kisses me on the mouth, hard. ‘marry me?” he says. I always hear a question mark these days, after everything he says.
Bud’s not like Taylor–he’s never asked me about India; it scares him. He wouldn’t be interested in the forecast of an old fakir under a banyan tree. Bud was wounded in the war between my fate and my will. I think sometimes I saved his life by not marrying him.
I feel so potent, a goddess.
In the kitchen, today as on all Sundays, Mother Ripplemeyer is in charge. We have gone over to Mother’s for our Sunday roast. Bud and his eight brothers and sisters were born in this house. From Baden, it’s the first livable house on the second dirt road after you pass Madame Cleo’s. Madame Cleo cuts and styles hair in a fuchsia pink geodesic dome.
When Bud and Karin’s divorce became final, Karin got their fancy three-story brick house with the columns in front, their home for twenty-eight years. The house he bought after the divorce is low and squat, a series of addons. It had been a hired mans house. Eventually we’ll take over Mother Ripplemeyer’s house. Until then, we wait out here on three hundred acres, which isn’t bad. My father raised nine of us on thirty acres.
This was a three-room frame house. He rents out the three hundred acres for hay. We added a new living room with an atrium when we moved in, and a small bedroom when we got word from the adoption agency in Des Moines that Du had made it out to Hong Kong. The house looks small and ugly from the dirt road, but every time I crunch into the driveway and park my old Rabbit between the rusting, abandoned machinery and the empty silo, the add-ons cozy me into thinking that all of us Ripplemeyers, even us new ones, belong.
Du is a Ripplemeyer. He was Du Thien. He was fourteen when we got him; now he’s seventeen, a junior in high school. He does well, though he’s sometimes contemptuous. He barely spoke English when he arrived; now he’s fluent, but with a permanent accent. “Like Kissinger,” he says. They tell me I have no accent, but I don’t sound Iowan, either. I’m like those voices on the telephone, very clear and soothing. Maybe Northern California, they say. Du says they’re computer generated.
It was January when Du arrived at Des Moines from Honolulu with his agency escort. He was wearing an ALOHA, Y”ALL T-shirt and a blue-jean jacket. We’d brought a new duffel coat with us, as instructed. Next to Bud, he seemed so tiny, so unmarked, for all he’d been through. The agency hadn’t minded Bud’s divorce. Karin could have made trouble but didn’t. The agency was charmed by the notion of Bud’s “Asian” wife, without inquiring too deeply. Du was one of the hard-to-place orphans.
He had never seen snow, never felt cold air, never worn a coat. We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way back to Baden. When we parked, Du jumped down from the back, leaving the new coat on the seat. The wind chill was –35, and he waited for us in the middle of the parking lot in his ALOHA, Y”ALL T-shirt while we bundled up and locked the doors. He wasn’t slapping his arms or blowing on his hands.
The day I came to Baden and walked into his bank with Mother Ripplemeyer, looking for a job, Bud was a tall, fit, fifty-year-old banker, husband of Karin, father of Buddy and Vern, both married farmers in nearby counties. Asia he’d thought of only as a soy-bean market. He’d gone to Beijing on a bankers’ delegation and walked the Great Wall.
Six months later, Bud Ripplemeyer was a divorced man living with an Indian woman in a hired man’s house five miles out of town. Asia had transformed him, made him reckless and emotional. He wanted to make up for fifty years of ‘selfishness,” as he calls it. One night he saw a television special on boat people in Thai prisons, and he called the agency the next day. Fates are so intertwined in the modern world, how can a god keep them straight? A year after that, we had added Du to our life, and Bud was confined to a wheelchair.
Mother likes to cook, but she’s crotchety this afternoon. It’s one of her medium-bad days, which means she’ll wink out on us entirely by the end. She is seventy-six, and sprightly in a Younkers pantsuit, white hair squeezed into curls by Madame Cleo, who trained in Ottumwa.
In Hasnapur a woman may be old at twenty-two.
I think of Vimla, a girl I envied because she lived in a two-story brick house with real windows. Our hut was mud. Her marriage was the fanciest the village had ever seen. Her father gave away a zippy red Maruti and a refrigerator in the dowry. When he was twenty-one her husband died of typhoid, and at twenty-two she doused herself with kerosene and flung herself on a stove, shouting to the god of death, “Yama, bring me to you”.
The villagers say when a clay pitcher breaks, you see that the air inside it is the same as outside. Vimla set herself on fire because she had broken her pitcher; she saw there were no insides and outsides. We are just shells of the same Absolute. In Hasnapur, Vimlas isn’t a sad story. The sad story would be a woman Mother Ripplemeyer’s age still working on her shell, bothering to get her hair and nails done at Madame Cleo’s.
* * *
Mother Ripplemeyer tells me her Depression stories. In the beginning, I thought we could trade some world-class poverty stories, but mine make her uncomfortable. Not that she’s hostile. It’s like looking at the name in my passport and seeing “Jyo–” at the beginning and deciding that her mouth was not destined to make those sounds. She can’t begin to picture a village in Punjab. She doesn’t mind my stories about New York and Florida because she’s been to Florida many times and seen enough pictures of New York. I have to be careful about those stories. I have to be careful about nearly everything I say. If I talk about India, I talk about my parents.
I could tell her about water famines in Hasnapur, how at the dried-out well docile women turned savage for the last muddy bucketful. Even here, I store water in orange-juice jars, plastic milk bottles, tumblers, mixing bowls, any container I can find. I’ve been through thirsty times, and not that long ago. Mother doesn’t think that’s crazy. The Depression turned her into a hoarder, too. She’s shown me her stock of tinfoil. She stashes the foil, neatly wrapped in a flannel sheet, in a drawer built into the bed for blankets and extra pillows.
She wonders, I know, why I left. I tell her, Education, which is true enough. She knows there is something else. I say, I had a mission. I want to protect her from too much reality.
She says she likes me better than she did Karin, though Karin grew up right here in Baden and Karin’s mother, who is eighty-two, still picks her up for their Lutheran Mission Relief Funds quilting group. Last year the Relief Fund raised $ 18,000 for Ethiopia. Mothers group’s quilt went for eleven hundred dollars to a bald, smiling man from Chicago who said it was for his granddaughter, but I read the commercial lettering on his panel truck.
Just before the divorce, according to Bud, Karin was agitating to stick Mother in the Lutheran Home. Mother senses I have different feelings about family.
The table is set and ready. Du’s made a centerpiece out of some early flowers and I’ve polished the display rack of silver spoons. Bud has five brothers and three sisters, and they were all born or at least christened with silver spoons in their mouths. I, too, come from a family of nine. Figure the odds on that, Bud says. He has a brother in Minneapolis and a sister in Omaha and a brother named Vern Ripplemeyer, Jr., who died in Korea, the family’s only other encounter with Asia. All the others are in Texas or California. After the divorce, Mother asked Karin to give the spoons back. “Call me an Indian giver,” Mother likes to joke. “I mean our kind.”
Du and Scott, whose father works down in the corn sweetener plant, are sprawled on the rug watching Monster Truck Madness. It’s trucks versus tanks, and the tanks are creaming them. We bought ourselves a satellite dish the day after we first talked long distance to Du. There’s no telling where this telecast is coming from.
Du’s first question to Bud, in painful English over trans Pacific cable, was “You have television? You get?” He talked of having watched television in his home in Saigon. We got the point. He’d had two lives, one in Saigon and another in the refugee camp. In Saigon he’d lived in a house with a large family, and he’d been happy. He doesn’t talk much about the refugee camp, other than that his mother cut hair, his older brother raised fighting fish, his married sister brought back live crabs and worms for him to eat whenever she could sneak a visit from her own camp. From a chatty agency worker we know that Du’s mother and brother were hacked to death in the fields by a jealous madman, after they’d gotten their visas.
“Look at that sucker fly!” Scott shouts, crawling closer to the screen. “All right!” Mud scuds behind the Scarlet Slugger.
“Whoa, Nellie!” Du can match Scott shout for shout now. “Hold on, mama!” The Slugger is the body of a Chevy Blazer welded onto a World War II tank.
Mother wanders over to the television but doesn’t sit down. In an instant replay we watch the Scarlet Slugger tear up the center of a bog. I can’t help thinking, It looks like a bomb crater. Does Du even think such things? I don’t know what he thinks. He’s called Yogi in school, mainly because his name in English sounds more like “Yo.” But he is a real yogi, always in control. I’ve told him my stories of India, the years between India and Iowa, hoping he’d share something with me. When they’re over he usually says, “That’s wild. Can I go now?”
“Holy Toledo!” Mother is into it.
‘mom, it’s okay, isn’t it, if Scott stays for dinner?”
“If it’s okay with his parents.”
Scott grins at me with his perfect teeth. I envy him his teeth. We had no dentist in Hasnapur. For a long time we had no doctor either, except for Vaccinations-sahib, who rode in and out of the village in a WHO jeep. My teeth look as though they’ve been through slugfests. Du’s seventeen and wears braces. Orthodontics was the Christmas present he asked for.
“And if the two of you wash the beans,” I add.
“You aren’t making the yellow stuff, Mrs. R.?” I detect disappointment.
“I will if you name it.”
I see him whispering to Du, and Du’s bony shoulder shrug. “Globey?” he says.
It’s close enough. I took gobi aloo to the Lutheran Relief Fund craft fair last week. I am subverting the taste buds of Elsa County. I put some of last night’s matar panir in the microwave. It goes well with pork, believe me.
Bud wheels himself in from his study. “I can’t let the kid do it!” The kid is Darrel, whose financial forms he’s been studying. “It’s plain stupid. Gene would never forgive me.”
I’ve sent away for the latest in wheelchairs, automated and really maneuverable. The doctor said, “I had a patient once who had his slugs pierced and hung on a chain around his neck.” Bud said to throw them out. He didn’t want to see how flattened they’d got, bouncing off his bones. The doctor is from Montana. I haven’t been west of Lincoln, Nebraska. Every night the frontier creeps a little closer.
Think of banking as your business, I want to tell Bud. Don’t make moral decisions for Darrel. It’s his farm now. He can make half a million by selling, buy his franchise and a house, and I can look out on a golf course, which won’t kill me. Bud gets too involved. It almost killed him two years ago.
“Watch him, Dad!” Du whoops. “Watch him take off!”
Bud puts away the Financial Statement and Supporting Schedules form he’s been penciling. He skids and wheels closer to Du to watch the Python.
“Can you do a wheelie yet, Mr. R.?” Scott jokes.
“Boy!” He smiles. “That thing gives the guy great air!”
The Python’s built himself a fancy floating suspension. Father and son watch the Snakeman win his class.
On the screen Cut Tire Class vehicles, frail as gnats, skim over churned-up mud. Helmeted men give me victory signs. They all plan on winning tonight. Nitro Express, Brawling Babe, Insane Expectations. Move over, I whisper.
Over the bleached grounds of Baden, Iowa, loose, lumpy rainclouds are massing. Good times, best times, are coming. Move over.
Mother paces between the windows. “Poor Vern.” Her hands pick at lint balls I can’t see. “It’s blowing so hard he’ll never find his way back from the barn. A man can die in a storm like this.”
Bud flashes anxiety at me. His father was Vern. I calm him with a touch. He rests his head on my hip. “Kiss an old fool for love?” He grins. I bring my face down close to his big face. He kisses my chin, my cheeks, my eyelids, my temples. His lips scuttle across my forehead; they warm the cold pale star of my scar. My third eye glows, a spotlight trained on lives to come. This isn’t a vision to share with Bud. He is happy. And I am happy enough.
The lemon-pale afternoon swirls indoors through torn window screens. The first lightning bugs of summer sparkle. I feel the tug of opposing forces. Hope and pain. Pain and hope.
Mother moves around the room, turning on lamps. ‘seen the quilt?” she says. “How much do you think it’ll bring? Thirty-five? Forty?”
In the white lamplight, ghosts float toward me. Jane, Jasmine, Jyoti.
“It’ll depend on the Christian conscience of strangers,” Bud jokes. “You might get more than thirty-five.”
“Think how many people thirty-five dollars will feed out there.”
Out there. I am not sure what Mother imagines. On the edge of the world, in flaming deserts, mangled jungles, squelchy swamps, missionaries save the needy. Out There, the darkness. But for me, for Du, In Here, safety. At least for now.
Oh, the wonder! the wonder!
Reading Group Guide for Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
Guide by Lindsey Tate
1. Read again the novel’s opening sentence and discuss the importance of the two words “lifetimes ago’ (p. 3). How do they relate to the important theme of re-creation of self as it plays out in the novel?
2. Talk about the novel’s narrative structure and the impact it had on your comprehension and enjoyment of the novel. To what purpose does the timeline shift back and forth? Specific geographic locations represent different stages of Jasmine’s evolution. Consider the impact of landscape on her changing psychological condition and the ways in which it affects and shapes her physical and mental life.
3. Consider the two opposing themes of duty and desire throughout the work and pinpoint episodes in Jasmine’s life when the two coincide.
Is one more prevalent than the other? Is duty more representative of her life in India, or is it more something that is present within her? Talk about the importance of Jasmine’s war between ‘my fate and my will” (p. 12). How much of the war is fought by external sources and how much by internal?
4. Following on from the last question discuss Jasmine’s marriage to Prakash and her statement, “For the uncle, love was control. Respect was obedience. For Prakash, love was letting go.” Why did Jasmine marry Prakash? Did the marriage live up to her hopes and expectations? Consider the differences between her girlhood knowledge of marriage and the reality? How far was she following her own dream in her marriage, and how far was she just a part of Prakash’s ideology? Do you think their marriage would have survived over the years?
5. In many ways Prakash’s death serves as a catalyst for Jasmine. Her move to America is just one of the ties to tradition that she breaks as a young woman. Talk about the ways in which her childhood, adolescence, and young womanhood are different to those of her grandmother, her mother, and her sisters. What is your view of her mother?
6. Consider the role of education in Jasmine’s life in the light of this quote: “Experience leads to knowledge, or else it is wasted. For me, experience must be forgotten, or else it will kill” (p. 33).
7. As Jasmine arrives in Queens she quickly notes that, “New York was an archipelago of ghettos seething with aliens’ and vows that she will “not immure herself” (p. 140). What does she mean by this? Discuss her experience of life with Professorji and the reasons why she finally states, “In Flushing I felt immured” (p. 148).
8. Continue your discussion of Jasmine’s first experience of immigrant life by evaluating this quote: “They had kept a certain kind of Punjab alive, even if that Punjab no longer existed. They let nothing go, lest everything be lost” (p. 162). How far does this relate to Jasmine? How much of her past life does Jasmine allow herself to keep, or does it stay with her despite her efforts to run away from it?
9. When Jasmine enters Wylie and Taylor’s household she states, “I became an American in an apartment on Claremont Avenue”Taylor and Wylie were my parents, my teachers, my family” (p. 165). Talk about what she means by this, and how it relates to the theme of re-creation of self. Here she gains the persona of Jase: how does Jase differ from Jasmine? Consider how far Jasmine has come since she was Jyoti. Are there any vestiges of Jyoti in Jase?
10. Talk about the reasons that Jasmine leaves for Iowa. Do you believe the man in the park really is Sukhwinder, or a stranger who pulls the ghosts from her past and makes her confront her personal history? Does it matter?
11. As Jasmine transitions into Jane out in Iowa do you think she is still trying to figure out how to live an American life, or is she intent on running away from her past? Is her life with Bud another possible version of the American dream? How actively does she pursue this new life, or does she fall into it? What do you think of her statement that Bud “is happy. And I am happy enough” (p. 21).
12. Discuss the relationship between Jasmine and Bud’s mother, ‘mother Ripplemeyer.” Consider some of the ways in which they see eye-to-eye despite their very different ages and life experiences. Why does ‘mother” prefer Jane to Bud’s former wife, Karin?
13. While the novel primarily charts the effects of American life on Indian-born Jasmine, it is equally powerful in its portrayal of her influence on the Americans she comes into contact with. Talk about changes wrought by Jasmine on the local communities she touches – this is especially evident in Iowa. How does she change people? Consider how far people want to allow themselves to be changed.
14. Jasmine makes this statement about her husband Prakash: ‘my husband was obsessed with . . . making something more of his life than fate intended” (p. 85). How might this same quote apply to Darrel Lutz with his dreams of golf courses and a life in Arizona? Discuss the similarities between Jasmine and Darrel, especially their battle between duty and desire.
15. What role does Du serve in the novel? Both he and Jasmine have lived through experiences that most of their new family members and friends cannot begin to understand. Who is the more successful in leaving the past behind, and entering into American life? Is it really possible for either of them to do so? Do they want to? How does Du’s life as an immigrant differ from Jasmine’s. How is it the same? How valid is Jasmine’s comment on Du: “Vietnamese-American: don’t question either half too hard” (p. 225).
16. Discuss the poignant and difficult images of Jasmine’s sexual life with wheelchair-bound Bud and consider the sexual odyssey she has made from submission to control. How does it parallel her internal journey?
17. “We murder who we are so we can rebirth ourselves in the images of dreams’ (p. 29). Jasmine makes this statement in reference to Du’s attempts to leave behind his past, but it could equally apply to herself. In the light of the entire novel how successful is Jasmine in achieving her own rebirth?
18. In the final pages of the book, as Jasmine moves into a new life with Taylor, she states that she is “caught between the promise of America and old-world dutifulness’ (p. 240). What do you think she means by this? What are your feelings about her decision to leave behind Iowa, and all that it entails? How far do you agree with her statement to Karin, “I’m not leaving Bud”I’m going somewhere” (p. 240).
19. What do you envisage for Jasmine’s future? Is it possible that she will achieve happiness in this new life with Taylor and Duff, or is she destined to be forever moving on, forever changing who she is, and searching for an authentic self?
20. The novel Jasmine was first published twenty years ago. How far do you think it still accurately reflects the immigrant experience in America? How has the book aged?