India, past and present, its inhabitants and expatriates, has always formed the framework of Mukherjee's literary world. In this vibrant novel, a sequel to Desirable Daughters and her best work to date, the author has fused history, mysticism, treachery and enduring love in a suspenseful story about the lingering effects of past secrets. Tara Chatterjee, the protagonist of the earlier novel, again narrates. The tale begins as her San Francisco house is firebombed by a man obsessed with killing her, and trails back to her legendary great-great-aunt and namesake, Tara Lata, who was born in 1874 and, at five, married to a tree because her fianc died. Later, Tara Lata bravely conspired to win Bengal's independence from England. As the narrator gradually discovers why her namesake died in prison, she uncovers much evidence of the British rulers' contempt for the Indians they claimed they were "civilizing"; their cruelty, bigotry and duplicity cut into the narrative like a bloody knife. The plot itself is convoluted in a suspenseful way: the drama begun by Tara Lata's wedding resonates in miraculous interactions over the generations. As Tara Chatterjee's husband, a technological genius, has always told her, there are no coincidences in the universe. Over the course of this story, a dreadful 18th-century sea voyage spawns one man's redemption and another's hatred; honor and courage are met by betrayal; and loyalty to one's family and tradition prove to be the fuel of 20th-century love. The narrative brims with more action and vitality than Mukherjee's previous novels while retaining her elegant and incisive style. It's a good bet that this book will attract wide interest and leave readers eagerly awaiting the third volume in the trilogy. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A heritage of revenge and violence stalks the protagonist and narrator in Mukherjee's latest, the second of a trilogy (Desirable Daughters, 2002). Tara Chatterjee opens it with a terse account of her reunion with former husband Bish (the computer-genius "Raja of Silicon Valley"), crippled when their California home was fire-bombed by one Abbas Sattar Hai, whose motives are initially unclear. Answers lie in the history of Tara's Indian family, specifically in the story of her Victorian ancestor Tara Lata Gangooly, literally betrothed to a tree when her preadolescent fiance died of snakebite, and thereafter a secular saint who used the wealth of her untouched dowry to finance Indian resistance to British colonialism. The contemporary Tara accesses the Tree Bride's story circuitously, through family papers supplied by Tara's gynecologist Victoria Khanna. Gradually Tara plaits together two crucially related other stories: those of 19th-century foundling "Jack Snow," whose misadventure aboard a Calcutta-bound ship overtaken by Danish pirates led him to a life of dangerous exploits and ignominy as freelance empire-builder "John Mist"; and Victoria's grandfather Virgil Treadwell, a British colonial officer traumatized by an unconventional upbringing, lured by the beauty and mystery of the Indian subcontinent, shaped and stunted by his encounters with both the victims and the agents of his culture's proprietary energies. Mukherjee's tale itself displays similar energies, rising to a spectacular climax when Tara, hugely pregnant, barely escapes death again-and begins to understand how "an indiscriminate killer in India and America, was born and possibly raised in my family's house." The Tree Brideis thus filled with absorbing stuff, and really rather brilliantly worked out. But its past and present are so densely entangled that there's almost too much information for a reader to absorb. Still, it's worth the effort. Mukherjee is a potent writer, and her contrasted and conflicting worlds and times seductively draw us in.