Mukherjee was born to Indian parents and had learned to read and write by age 3. She earned a B.A from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her M.A. in English and ancient Indian culture from the University of Baroda in 1961, then moved to the United States to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. From the University of Iowa she earned her M.F.A. in creative writing in 1963 and Ph.D. in English and comparative literature in 1969. She has also lived in England and Canada. Mukherjee's eloquent novels treat the subjects of assimilation, family, and the struggles of Indian women. Her first book, The Tiger's Daughter (1972), concerns a young woman who returns to India after many years, only to discover the nation's chaos and mistreatment of women. She has written more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed collection Leave It to Me (1997), and her recent novels, Desirable Daughters (2002) and its sequel, The Tree Bride (2004).