‘Arresting, wrenching, desiring … an astonishing, and astonishingly accurate, portrait of contemporary India.’ —Chitra Divakaruni, bestselling author of The Mistress of Spices
Creative writing professor Maneka Roy has not returned to India in years, and when she arrives in her home country to mourn the loss of her mother, she finds herself in a new world. The booming city of Hrishipur where her father now lives is nothing like the historic neighborhood where she grew up, and the more she sees of this new, sparkling city, the more she learns that nothing — and no one — in Hrishipur is as it appears.
From handsome young photographer Ashok, who charms Maneka one night at a party, to her immaculately groomed friend Ramona, who dreams of a perfect future in a new apartment complex even as she struggles with her marriage in the present, and the bitter but determined electrician Gopal, whose furtive plan for the complex just might undermine everything Ramona — and everyone else in support of its construction — has hoped for, it’s clear that everyone in Hrishipur is hiding secrets. And as the summer temperatures soar to record highs, the longings and resentments of the community members simmer until they come to a shocking boil. Ultimately, it will take a tragic event that no one saw coming for Maneka and the others to finally understand just how fragile life is in this city built on aspirations.
In smart, propulsive prose, 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. Her story of Hrishipur is not only the story of India today, but the story of people impacted by globalisation everywhere: a tale of ambition, longing, love, and bitter loss that asks what it really costs to try and build a dream.
Mukherjee's sweeping debut charts the rampant class differences in the fictional Indian city of Hrishipur over the course of the summer of 2018. To name a few of the 10 major characters: Maneka, a creative writing professor at a small Midwest college, is back in India to spend her summer break with her newly widowed father; her school friend Ramona, who has recently miscarried, suspects her globe-trotting entrepreneur husband, Salil, is having affairs; Jessica, a caterer and single mother, hustles to take care of her adopted daughter; Pinky gives facials and massages to the wealthy and learns their secrets; and Rajesh, the driver for Ramona and Salil, longs for a better life. Looming over them all is a nearly completed Trump Towers luxury apartment building, representing the country's wealth, modernity, and progress to some of the narrators, and for others poisonous corruption. By the end, a major disaster impacts everyone. Though some of the many points of view add more insight than others, the author does a great job capturing the setting and exploring the fateful power dynamics. On balance, it's a penetrating look at the fast-growing country's shaky façade.