Lavanya Sankaran’s perceptive first novel explores the fortunes of those affected by the proclivities of others, set in a Bangalore increasingly divided between tradition and modernization. In The Hope Factory, the author’s fluid prose shifts from observant to incisive to beautifully descriptive as she introduces readers to Anand, a businessman with his own auto parts company on the verge of success, and Kamala, a maid in his house holding on to her tenuous existence and her son Narayan with both hands.

At nearly every turn, Anand and Kamala find all that they have worked for may be out of their hands to keep. They are each making their own way, engineering their own destinies (and that of their families) with determination and grit. Themes of wealth and poverty, power and lack thereof, goodness and corruption form a familiar framework that any reader can relate to. The main characters’ worries and questions are those of all of us.

While a few minor plotlines are thin or at least not satisfyingly developed, the truthful depiction of Anand and Kamala never wavers. Sankaran deftly draws their struggles with empathy and enough humor to keep their plights from veering to the maudlin. Her style and use of language is specific and direct, rich in cultural idioms that create a real and simultaneously exotic world for readers not as intimately entrenched in South Indian culture as she is. The well-chosen title of this novel reminds us we have to work to keep hope alive in the face of life’s disappointments and derailments.

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