by Oindrila Mukherjee
My Initial Response
This book is a punch in the gut. Mukherjee reaches out from its pages and enters your heart. Once in, she knocks on doors that you have long forgotten. Where ivy has grown on the frame from years of neglect. The door knob is a bit rusted and won’t budge easily. But Mukherjee persists. She doesn’t stop until she has opened the reluctant door. She will then proceed to shine a light so bright that you are forced to confront the truths behind that door.
Without being overt in any way, she has conveyed class differences that still exist, and perhaps have grown, in modern India. She has illuminated the human side of each character with compassion and insight making each of them complete and relatable. The strength of the characters she has built is apparent in each chapter of the book being dedicated to a person. The weave is seamless. It connects each character to their role in the collective drama unfolding in the imaginary city of Hrishipur.
She speaks to modern Indian men and women- all generations and classes of them. In her narrative, Mukherjee will remind you of who you have been, who you are, and perhaps forewarn you of who you are about to become.
Undoubtedly, ‘Dream Builders’ will speak to Indian immigrants in the US – especially women. This book is also a great read for anyone who is curious about the immigrant experience. It gives you an inside peek into what it means to love two countries, to have two homes, to belong to two cultures, all in one complete human being.
What makes this book so good?
It makes you wonder why some books are so profound even though they may narrate mostly everyday events. There are also books that speak of great events and yet leave you untouched. What differentiates them? Why do you respond to them so differently?
I think it is a matter of connection. And true connection is not possible without authenticity. A story that is authentically told, no matter how ordinary, is easy to embrace and even relate to.
A shallow truth will not touch you deeply. It may have some information that your mind may lap up but your heart will stay aloof. A deeper truth, on the other hand, is unstoppable. There is no coming back from having known it. It opens up parts of your heart that you cannot close back. You are forever changed. That is the kind of story worth reading and writing. Stories that are provocative, emotionally charged, and yet carry the luminance of everyday life.
Without giving away too much, reading Dream Builders felt like the story built to a crescendo and the final chapter was its peak. The narrative crashed like a wave in that last chapter. The impact was so strong, it makes you want to read and reread that chapter to savor every last detail. I had to sit down for a bit after the book ended to fully grasp what it had done to me.
My one grievance
In listening to the audiobook, I was irked by how the narrator would not pronounce the Indian names in the correct Indian way. The anglicized recitation of the book overall would have been ok if at least the names were spoken correctly. As a person of Indian origin, I cringed when the narrator couldn’t call Maneka Roy, Maneky Roy. Instead, our leading lady’s name was distorted by pronouncing it in an Americanized way.
In her books, ‘Sister Of My Heart’, “The Vines Of Desire’, and others, Banerjee wrote about the experience of the Indian woman who migrates to the US. In ‘Dream Builders’, Mukherjee has written about the experience of the Indian woman living in the US who visits the land of her birth. Undoubtedly the land has changed and so has she. The interactions between the returning daughter of India with her motherland and all in it, are beautifully captured in The Dream Builders.
In her book, ‘The Spaces Between Us’, Thrity weaves a beautiful narrative between the memsahibs living luxuriously in urban cities of India and their domestic help. Both live in the same city but under vastly different circumstances. I found glimpses of that dynamic in Dream Builders.
I obviously, loved the book and strongly recommend it. Perhaps my response was so strong because I could personally relate to many parts of the narrative and got the feeling of ‘been there, done that’. Other than the minor irk with the pronunciation, Soneela Nankani’s performance is stellar. If you can make the time to sit down with this book, go for the physical copy or a kindle edition.