Accompanying notes to Sandip Roy’s “Don’t Let Him Know” let the reader know that quite a lot of this book had previously been published as short stories. This explains why there are considerable strengths in narrative and description at times, but the piece lacks a strong continuous narrative drive.
I particularly enjoyed the insights granted into domestic life in Calcutta particularly during the childhood and youth of Amit, only child of Avinish and Romola Mitra. I also drew understanding from the passage of two generations of men, Avinish and Amit, as Indians who feel the need to be educational emigrants to another country in order to exploit their intellectual capabilities and the consequent pressures when family pressures to marry (will it be a good Bengali girl or the dreaded European) come to bear. Finally the opportunity to see these processes from inside the women involved across two cultures was also a worthwhile experience.
Probably, for me, the descriptions of family life and growing up in Calcutta were the most real, colourful and dynamic. The relationship between Amit and his grandmother is explored beautifully. The men in the family are not nearly as memorable and are almost cyphers. Avenish as the closeted homosexual cuts a sad figure as he scarcely dares to express himself in India as young man, potentially more in the USA before his marriage and less so when he returns to India with its social and familial obligations. The one stand-out is limned when he pursues his impulses and falls into a frightening and dangerous experience in a city park – somewhat different to the images conveyed in ‘The Boatman.’
The narrative key is a letter written to to Avenish by his early lover Sumit bemoaning his loss. Romola reads it by accident and this accelerates here dislike of American life which leads to the family’s return to India and a ‘good’ married life. The letter, which is secreted, returns in the hands of Amit who, following his father’s pathway to America, thinks is was written to his mother who is trialling living with him and his American wife, June, back in the USA.
The denouement involves Romala seeking out the site of her former expatriate homelife and falling into a gay bar and a sequence out of Bollywood. This is a peculiar ending, almost disjointed from what has preceded it and left this reader enjoying the described events but feeling unsatisfied with the dramatic logic as presented.
This is not to say that there is not considerable depth in the relationships explored both in men and women, just a disquieting lack of direction.