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 here is as it appears.
Ultimately, it will take an unexpected tragedy 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. The Dream Builders is 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 and build a dream.
While The Dream Builders is packed with urgent social commentary, it is never at the expense of characterisation. Rather, these social issues form a tight backdrop to a compelling, character-driven story.
We only spend a short time experiencing the world through the eyes of each character, but we get the sense that their lives, and the consequences of their choices, stretch out long before and after this small glimpse. Each character is convincingly three-dimensional, which makes it impossible not to root for each of them – despite how flawed they all are.
The way Mukherjee intertwines the stories of so many characters is masterful, with the smallest details picked up and carried through the alternating perspectives. If you’re worried that you might feel lost or overwhelmed keeping up with many different viewpoints, you needn’t be concerned. Mukherjee’s writing style is refreshingly direct guides readers gently forwards, keeping you tethered to a strong narrative thread while the perspective shifts and glides, so that you never feel lost or disoriented.
Achieving this sense of ease within such an ambitious and innovative narrative structure reveals Mukherjee’s true mastery of her craft. She has a PhD in literature and a background as a journalist, and is currently teaching creative writing at Grand Valley State University – while this is her debut novel, it’s clear that she is no novice.
Every now and then, you pick up a debut novel that has a certain air of urgency to it – this novel definitely has that feel. It’s funny, deep, challenging and heartfelt all at once. I’m sure I won’t be the only one keeping an eye out for Mukherjee’s next release.