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Hardcover | $5.75 Trade | £4.95 | 272 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 29 figures | September 2013 | ISBN: 9780262019972
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Breaking Out

An Indian Woman's American Journey


Padma Desai grew up in the 1930s in the provincial world of Surat, India, where she had a sheltered and strict upbringing in a traditional Gujarati Anavil Brahmin family. Her academic brilliance won her a scholarship to Bombay University, where the first heady taste of freedom in the big city led to tragic consequences—seduction by a fellow student whom she was then compelled to marry. In a failed attempt to end this disastrous first marriage, she converted to Christianity.

A scholarship to America in 1955 launched her on her long journey to liberation from the burdens and constraints of her life in India. With a growing self-awareness and transformation at many levels, she made a new life for herself, met and married the celebrated economist Jagdish Bhagwati, became a mother, and rose to academic eminence at Harvard and Columbia.

How did she navigate the tumultuous road to assimilation in American society and culture? And what did she retain of her Indian upbringing in the process? This brave and moving memoir—written with a novelist’s skill at evoking personalities, places, and atmosphere, and a scholar’s insights into culture and society, community, and family—tells a compelling and thought-provoking human story that will resonate with readers everywhere.

About the Author

Padma Desai is the Gladys and Roland Harriman Professor of Comparative Economic Systems and director of the Center for Transition Economies at Columbia University. A leading scholar of the Russian economy, she is the author of Conversations on Russia: Reform from Yeltsin to Putin, which was the Financial Times Pick of the Year in 2007, and coathor of Work Without Wages: Russia’s Non-Payment Crisis (MIT Press). Her most recent book, on the current economic crisis, is From Financial Crisis to Global Recovery.


“An extraordinary memoir. Her mind floats over gender and geography to greet and entrance your own.”
Amity Shlaes, author of Coolidge and The Forgotten Man
“A fascinating and inspiring narrative, revealing both the personal and professional struggles and triumphs of an extraordinary woman.”
Wendy Doniger, author of The Hindus: An Alternative History
“Deeply felt, yet unsentimental. . . . [P]laces an individual life in the context of the worlds it has travelled with a gripping and relentless honesty.”
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 2012 Kyoto Prize recipient
Breaking Out is a brave and eloquent account of the complex conditions and compromises that connect our professional lives to our personal commitments. Padma Desai has given us a tale of several cities, many worlds, and a testament to lasting love and companionship.”
Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University