The Dream Builders
by Oindrila Mukherjee
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Pub Date 13 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 5 Jul 2023
A stunning, multi-perspective epic about class division, the contraints of gender roles, and the history of India.
After living in the US for years, Maneka Roy returns home to India to mourn the loss of her mother and finds herself in a new world. The booming city of Hrishipur where her father now lives is nothing like the part of the country where she grew up, and the more she sees of this new, sparkling city, the more she learns that nothing — and no one — here is as it appears. Ultimately, it will take an unexpected tragic event for Maneka and those around her to finally understand just how fragile life is in this city built on aspirations.
Written from the perspectives of ten different characters, Oindrila Mukherjee’s incisive debut novel explores class divisions, gender roles, and stories of survival within a society that is constantly changing and becoming increasingly Americanised. It’s a story about India today, and people impacted by globalisation everywhere: a tale of ambition, longing, and bitter loss that asks what it really costs to try to build a dream.
‘The Dream Builders is a novel of epic proportions that follows Maneka Roy and those around her as they each ponder the power of forgiveness and learn none of them can wield that power without first forgiving the self. Oindrila Mukherjee allows full life for these characters who are often real enough to remind us of ourselves, even as they betray one another … even as they betray themselves. This is a lovely debut.’ – Jericho Brown, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Tradition
‘Oindrila Mukherjee’s The Dream Builders is such an impressive feat of storytelling, a novel that examines the constraints of class, of gender, of history, while showcasing the sheer expansiveness of the endeavour, skillfully shifting the point of view amongst a group of characters who each demand a claim on the story. It’s a marvel of a structure, built by a great talent.’ – Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here
‘Mukherjee has written a funny, moving, and often deliciously cynical novel about the illusive ideal we sometimes call the New India. Written from almost every angle imaginable, the novel demonstrates how each of us might be a hero in our own narratives while being the potential villain in someone else’s.’ – Tiphanie Yanique, author of Monster in the Middle
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 4 members
The story of a fictional new city in India, on the outskirts of Delhi, and its inhabitants. The narrative centres around Maneka, who returns to India from the US after many years of absence. Her three months of meeting old acquaintances, meeting new people, and learning more about herself are the main thread the book. It's hard to summarise what the book is about, but, among many things, it talks about the conflict between the old and the new in India, the increasingly aware poor who want better lives for themselves and their families, happiness and what causes it, family and friends, and belonging (or lack thereof).
I personally loved it. What struck me most was the writing style, and the attentive description of the day-to-day lives of the characters. The book is full of minute details of what people eat, what they wear, where the sweat, what their rooms look like, what they smell, etc. It really made this book come to life for me, and did wonders to bringing the story to like, and making it difficult to put down. It was a truly immersive experience, and I felt myself truly living this reality.
I loved the characters, and the author's incredibly credible attempt at bring the story to life through ensuring that the perspective of each character had a chance to be told and explained. While this takes away ambiguity, it enables us to see how the conflicts between people don't need bad intentions to emerge. There is something solemn and universal in the result, which helps the reader see the full breadth and depth of the experience the author seeks to convey.
I also liked the author's attentive weaving of the social, the political, and the psychological. This really helps convey a universal message via the book - the impact of change on the people experiencing it. While this book is suffused by India, it also has a universal tone and the multi layered approach to the various issues is at the core of it.
I can't recommend it enough. While I read multiple books trying to convey what life in contemporary India feels like, this effort ranks among the best in its style, pacing, breadth, multi dimensionality, and character richness. It is a monumental effort, and I feel very privileged to have read it. While it clearly borrows a lot from other novels (Man in Tower comes to mind, as well as the more recent Minor Disturbances at Grand Life Apartments by Hema Sukumar), it's a great and impressive effort.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an early copy of this book in return for an honest review.