I’m back with a book review as I’ve just finished the book Jasmine last night. This book by Bharati Mukherjee was the book my students and I chose for our book club. One of my students brought it up and said she wanted to read it because it was on our AP Literature list and after taking a vote between that and another book – Jasmine won out.
I’m going to be totally honest about this book – I’m not sure why it’s on an AP Literature list. I think the premise is great, but the development of the story seems lacking and a lot of it is just…weird. The main character, Jyoti, is born in poor village in India. As a young teenager, she meets and falls in love with a guy a few years older (college age) and they marry. Affectionately, her husband nicknames her Jasmine and wants her to think past her village life and imagine a life where she embraces an education and not conform to old traditions i.e. having a baby at 16. There is actually a great quote from the book that really encapsulated the love her husband has for her and his modern, forward thinking:
For the uncle, love was control. Respect was obedience. For Prakash, love was letting go. Independence, self-reliance: I learned the litany by heart. But I felt suspended between worlds.
He gets accepted to a school in the United States and they make all these plans for a life in America, but tragedy strikes and her husband is killed leaving Jasmine a widow while still only a teen. She decides to find a way to get to America anyway and try to fulfill the dream she had with her husband. Sounds promising right?
Well, she gets to America (Florida to be exact) illegally and some bad things happen to her and some good things too, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you. She makes her way to New York City and then eventually to Iowa, which is where she is in present day of the book. It’s really odd – you wonder how she ended up in Iowa at the age of 24, in a relationship with a guy 20-30 years her senior and her name is now Jane. What??
I think there was definitely the prospect of an amazing book here with her struggles and trying to find her place as an Indian, illegal immigrant, in America. But there were just too many weird elements in it for me. And I don’t mean weird like – I don’t like that – weird, but random characters thrown in who all of a sudden profess their love for her or adopting a Vietnamese refugee who she has a strange relationship with. There were just too many random things going on!
But underlying all that – I do think at its core it is a good story. A young woman comes to America with this dream in her head that it’s going to be this amazing place where dreams come true and lots of opportunities. But there’s a lot to learn and she doesn’t even know herself. Yes, she’s already widowed and has lived lots of different lives but at the end of the day she’s still only 24. Torn between her upbringing in India, her many life experiences, and now her life in America she needs to choose between doing what’s “right” and what’s right for her and what might bring her happiness.
There’s one section in the last quarter of the book that I find sad but also really realistic:
In America, nothing lasts. I can say that now and it doesn’t shock me, but I think it was the hardest lesson of all for me to learn. We arrive so eager to learn, to adjust, to participate, only to find the monuments are plastic, agreements are annulled. Nothing is forever, nothing is so terrible, or so wonderful, that it won’t disintegrate.
I can’t say I loved the book, but there are definitely some interesting points and perspectives in it. At less than 250 pages it’s not too long of a book if you want to give it a shot!