Friday, January 20, 2023

Seven novels with real estate and urban planning as the heroes & villains

Oindrila Mukherjee grew up in India, where she worked as a journalist for the country's oldest English language newspaper The Statesman. She has attended university on three continents and now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she teaches creative writing at Grand Valley State University.

Her debut novel is The Dream Builders.

At Electric Lit Mukherjee tagged seven city novels in which real estate and urban planning are the heroes and villains. One title on the list:
Dubai: The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

In this irreverent novel that was longlisted for the Booker Prize, O’Neill describes the life of the American expat in a city seldom represented in fiction. The narrator, an unnamed attorney, has fled New York to work in Dubai for the absurdly wealthy Batros Brothers. He lives in a luxury apartment complex called The Situation on an inlet of the world’s largest manmade lagoon. From his window, he can see the abandoned project that was supposed to be the tallest residential building in the world. The “desert metropolis,” he tells us, is a place where some massive structure or other is constantly being built. At work, his role is vague and includes supervision of the new intern—his boss’ young son. At home, he drafts imaginary emails to his bosses, ruminates on his failed marriage, and watches porn. Occasional forays out of his sterilized apartment involve international prostitutes and equally disillusioned fellow expats.

The narrator’s self-deprecating humor and rambling asides conceal a keen sense of empathy. This is a person who really wanted a dog and was perfectly content with living in a two-roomed rent-controlled apartment in Gramercy. He is aware of the many social issues in the Emirates, such as the classism that keeps immigrant workers like Bidoon the valet subservient. And above all else, he is aware of the reductive stereotypes of Dubai portrayed by the Western media. Dubai’s modernity and its vulgar display of wealth feel dystopian, but both the narrator and we are forced to consider whether the New York he has left is any better. This is a study in ethics and morality, and the existential crisis that haunts people when their lives are filled with material pursuits.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue