The Hope Factory by Lavanya Sankaran is set in the South Indian boom town of Bangalore. The story runs in two streams: one focused on Anand the owner of a factory and his desire to expand; the second revolves around one of his housemaids, Kamala, as she tries to make a better life for her son. Interspersed with these two main story line are the antics of Anand’s wife, who is both dramatic and ridiculous.
One of the main themes running throughout the novel is the issue of corruption in India. How does one get ahead without paying the bribes necessary to grease the wheels of an unwieldy bureaucracy? Buying land to build a new factory proves fraught with pitfalls requiring extra money from Anand.
I wish I could say that I liked this novel a little bit more than I did. You know how sometimes you pick up a novel and it is the perfect story for that moment in your life? Well, the opposite happened with The Hope Factory. I was feeling unsettled and disjointed and the novel appeared that way as well. Was it me? Or was it the novel? I often felt bored and like nothing was really happening. Many sub-streams of the novel were left unresolved. Her literary pedigree is good however, having written for The Atlantic, The Guardian and such publications, so maybe it was more me than her.
On the plus side, however, Sankaran has a real ease with dialogue. The diction of characters of various classes was dead on. And her portrayal of Kamala, a widowed mother raising a son on her own was poignant without treading into sentimentality.
Who would like this book? My initial suggestion would be that The Hope Factory would be a great companion piece to Aravind Adiga‘s White Tiger. Both are set in Bangalore and deal with issues of corruption and India’s place in the new economic order.