‘Jasmine’ by Bharati Mukherjee

Bharati Mukherjee skewered the good immigrant trope in her short stories, long before it was even named. The eponymous Jasmine is an ambitious, stylish young Indo-Trinidadian woman who makes her way to Detroit via smugglers to work in a cheap motel run by the Daboos, a family from the island who had ‘gotten in before the rush’ and made good. On a drunken college reggae night in bougie Ann Arbor, she meets Bill and Lara, a professor and a performance artist, who hire her as a live-in housekeeper and nanny.  Jasmine finally begins to feel she is leaving Trinidad behind (‘a nothing place’), even as the couple’s affectations amuse her. Bill tells her about camping (‘Jasmine didn’t see the point of sleeping in tents, the woods sounded cold and wild and creepy’), Lara says ‘things like, “We’ve finally obliterated the margin between realspace and performancespace”’. Mukherjee’s largely exposition-free writing is initially disorienting. Like Jasmine, you’re in the midst of it all, trying to navigate these deftly depicted worlds. The ending of the story makes us fear for Jasmine but somehow also affirms her own sense of freedom, even if that freedom is to make potentially terrible choices: ‘She was a bright, pretty girl with no visa, no papers and no birth certificate. No nothing other than what she wanted to invent and tell. She was a girl rushing wildly into the future’. 

Published in The Middleman and Other Stories, Virago Press, 1989

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