Tara Chatterjee is the youngest daughter of a privileged Indian family. At thirty-six, she's a divorced single mother raising a teenage son in San Francisco. Tara's comfortable life ends with the arrival of a young man claiming to be her nephew. If he speaks the truth, it would mean Tara's sister secretly had a baby twenty-five years ago. Social custom and proper Indian upbringing prevent Tara from simply blurting out her suspicions. Yet, keeping quiet may put her family in danger.
The quest for more information leads Tara on a journey of self-discovery. The mysterious stranger/possible nephew is merely a portion of the tale. Tara left India to marry a computer genius and multi-millionaire. Since then she has divorced, bringing shame to the family and providing evidence that she's forgetting her heritage and family position back home.
Desirable Daughters is also a story of three sisters and the evolving Indian culture. Mukherjee paints a clear picture of her cast. Attention to social class, castes, and the clash between old and new India are presented. The players spend a great deal of time remembering their place and living up to an image that is slowly losing superiority.
The tale grows more complex as it progresses. There are many names dropped, religions judged and castes prioritized. Tara's search for answers leads her to New York, where she's introduced to her sister's Indian world. The "mysterious son" guides the plot, but Tara's re-emerging self-awareness is what makes this story shine.
The ending of Desirable Daughters is highly suspenseful and quite complex. Mukherjee's description of the homeland is magical, but some of the symbolism was lost on this simple American reviewer, whose background is 5% of everything. Even in the confusion, I understood the message in this vivid tale. It's fascinating, beautifully written, and not to be missed.