The Middleman and Other Stories (1988) by Bharati Mukherjee is without question one of the most important books by American immigrant authors. Its importance particularly comes from the combination of masterful craft of story telling and from the various immigrant experiences that it showcases. With the 11 stories in this collection, Bharati presents intriguing stories of, mostly, American immigrants from various backgrounds, in addition to those of Caucasian Americans whose immigration origins we tend to forget.
As indicated above, language is one of the strongest charms of this book. Mukherjee’s characters and narrators speak in their own “registers.” In “Fathering,” the reader can see here a Vietnam War veteran whose language is infused with wartime terminologies and battle images that keep coming and thus fogging up the reader’s sight of the actual incidents that take place in the story. In “Orbiting,” an Afghan immigrant with forged papers who came from an educated background, speaks with the language of a highly-cultivated person about various things, politics and world-travel experiences, that put a humble family of second generation Italian immigrants to shame.
The multivariate immigrant experiences also make the book stand out among other books by immigrant authors. If most immigrant authors write about experiences of immigrants from their own backgrounds–hey, isn’t it the first creative writing advice to write only about what you know best?–The Middleman and Other Stories contains experiences of various immigrants: Filipino, Italian, West Indian, Afghan, Indian, and Sri Langkan. This strongly indicates Mukherjee’s unending enthusiasm for human experiences regardless of their backgrounds. I believe that she could’ve easily written (and with marvelous results) of Indian immigrant experiences. Instead, she’s chosen to write (=to research) about immigrants from, for example, Poland and Yugoslavia.
I have here a few notes that I took while reading two reviews of the book. The title of this post “The Middlebook Among Immigrants” was probably inspired by Uma Paraweswaran’s interpretation of the use of “The Middleman” as the title story:
Alfred Alcorn – Bharati Mukherjee is great at impersonating America. Great opening from “Fighting for Rebound” because of the narrator’s using “hibachi” as a verb. The title story is not very cool, more like a “made-for-television” due to its staged murder. I think it’s a good story for Tarantino. To Alcorn, this story doesn’t work with the other stories in the collection.
Uma Parameswaran – Bharati Mukherjee is perfect that representing the various experiences of being Americans (not Canadian) because of his coverage of groups (3 white males and 6 females–only three of whom are of Indian descent). The exploration of attitudes and diction is an interesting experiment and her language is devastating as always. Pameswaran says that most male characters in the American stories are caricatures: a motel owner who exploits underpaid fellow Indians, a professor whose language is too high, a ruffian who feels that the State is betraying him, etc. For Pameswaran, the use of “The Middleman” as the title of the collection is fitting because most of the characters in this stories are people who bridges two cultures.