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“The Life and Death of Dhan Gopal Mukerji,” a biographical study in the republication of Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Front Cover of Caste and Outcast
Stanford University Press
Mar 2002

“The Life and Death of Dhan Gopal Mukerji,” a biographical study in the republication of Dhan Gopal Mukerji, Caste and Outcast (1923), (Stanford University Press, 2002)

A person of rare talent and broad appeal, Dhan Gopal Mukerji (1890-1936) holds the distinction of being the first South Asian immigrant to have a successful career in the United States as a man of letters. As the author of two dozen published volumes of poetry, drama, fiction, social commentary, philosophy, translations, and children's stories, Mukerji was a pivotal figure in the transmission and interpretation of Indian traditions to Americans in the first several decades of the twentieth century. This reissue of his classic autobiography Caste and Outcast, with a new Introduction and Afterword, seeks to revitalize interest in Mukerji and his work and to contribute to the exploration of the South Asian experience in America.

Originally published in 1923, this book is an exercise in both cultural translation and cultural critique. In the first half of the book, Mukerji draws upon his early experiences as a Bengali Brahmin in India, hoping to convey to readers "an intimate impression of eastern life"; the second half describes Mukerji's coming to America and his experiences as a student, worker, and activist in California.

Mukerji's text, written in an engaging personal style, is the kind of ethnographic writing that seeks to render intelligible and familiar the unfamiliar and the exotic. Gordon H. Chang's substantial Introduction locates the story of Caste and Outcast within the larger context of Mukerji's life, tracing the author's personal history and his connections to such major figures as Jawaharlal Nehru, M. N. Roy, Van Wyck Brooks, Roger Baldwin, and Will Durant. The Afterword, by Purnima Mankekar and Akhil Gupta, examines the ways in which Mukerji stretches the limits of the autobiographical genre and provides a counternarrative to the dominant nationalist account of American society.