In her kaleidoscopic debut novel, Oindrila Mukherjee brings the fictional Indian city of Hrishipur to vivid life. Located in northern India, Hrishipur is a young city, home to migrants looking for work, elite professionals dazzled by the glittering nightlife and ultrawealthy business owners searching for the next big deal. With luxury malls, exclusive apartment complexes and crowded streets, it is a place of dizzying extremes.
The Dream Builders unfolds over the course of one hot, dry summer. Maneka Roy, a university professor who’s been living in the U.S. since college, returns home to visit her father after her mother’s sudden death. Her parents moved to Hrishipur from their native Kolkata, investing in one of many new construction projects that never materialized. Now her retired father is struggling to make ends meet, and Maneka is confronted with a city that’s as foreign to her as the American Midwest once was.
But Maneka and her father are just two of the 10 characters whose lives and stories intersect in The Dream Builders. There’s also Ramona, Maneka’s wealthy childhood friend, who has just bought a flat in the biggest new construction in Hrishipur: Trump Towers. There’s Jessica, a single mother with an adopted daughter, and Gopal, an electrician fueled by gritty determination. In other chapters, a husband longs to reconnect with his wife, a spa worker worries about her family’s financial situation, and a photographer dreams of his big break. Mukherjee moves easily from one point of view to the next, highlighting the cultural, class and gender diversity of the city.
All of these characters are hiding from themselves, each other, their pasts and futures. They may be neighbors, friends, lovers, employers and employees, but their dreams, desires and wounds are not immediately apparent to one another. They only ever see other people in bits and pieces, which often leads to misguided assumptions about the relative ease or hardship of another person’s life. This dissonance gives the novel its richness and propulsive motion. Although Mukherjee lingers in each perspective for only a chapter, her characters are so specific, so immediately human, that they remain resolutely present long after the narrative has moved on.
The Dream Builders is an elegant, intimate story about people adrift in a chaotic city, an unpredictable economy and a rapidly changing world. They long for home, belonging, stability and comfort, struggling to root themselves even as the ground shifts beneath them. In the spaces between their stories, Mukherjee invites readers to unknot the deeper echoes and connections that make this beautifully structured novel such a strong debut.