Winner of the 1988 National Books Critics' Circle Award for The Middleman and Other Stories, Mukherjee struggles against the thinning attenuations of melodrama in this story of a poor girl from India who makes her way to, and in, America. Richest and most confidently resonant here is the section of the novel set in strifetorn Punjab, where a bright--and beautiful--young Hindu girl, Jyoti, is raised in poverty (""Our hut was mud""); is married to an ambitious young student, Prakash Vijh; only to be widowed at 17 when Prakash is killed by a satanically moralistic Sikh fanatic named Sukhwinder, who sets off a bomb actually intended for the ""immoral"" Jyoti herself. Jyoti makes her way to America (Prakash had just been accepted into a technical college in Florida when he was killed) on falsified papers, and her endless tribulations pick up speed. Jyoti murders the loathsome and demented Vietnam vet who smuggled her into the country and then raped her. Penniless and wounded, she's taken in by a woman who runs a halfway house for illegal aliens--and who, Horatio Alger-like, sends Jyoti on to New York with money, advice, and an address or two. Events and coincidences speed up even more. Jyoti will become au pair for the child of a young Columbia physics prof and his trendy wife; will fall in love with the prof just at about the time the trendy wife leaves him (Jyoti: ""Could I really have not known that I was head over heels in love with Taylor Hayes?""); but will suddenly flee New York for Iowa when one day she sees in the park--yes, Sukhwinder the fanatic bomber. In Iowa there will be unmarried love with a 53-year-old rural banker who's in mid-life crisis; pregnancy by him, even after he's rendered paraplegic by a disgruntled farmer's rifle shot; the adoption of Du Thien, a teen-aged Vietnamese ""son""; another despairing farmer's suicide; the sudden reappearance of Taylor Hayes--and Jyoti's love-flight with him, full-girthed though she is with the good paraplegic banker's child. Ambitious and genuine material of the Third World and immigrant experience is watered down by the excessive plotting that comes from too widely cast a net; once-overlightly characterizations where something more is needed; and a current-events topicality that tears at the finer fabric of what Mukherjee can do.