Don’t Let Him Know- Sandip Roy: BOOK REVIEW

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Sandip Roy’s debut novel Don’t Let Him Know is chock full of scents, sounds, and sensual details. He manages to bring to life places such as suburban American neighbourhoods and the busy streets of Calcutta. The novel sheds some light on essential questions such as family honour, class, tradition, and race and weaves them beautifully into the main story. 

Don’t Let Him Know is an acknowledgement of the choices we make in order to rescue ourselves and maintain a sense of normalcy when what we long for or need is deemed impossible or denied completely. This unfortunately is the reality that surrounds gender identity and sexuality. 

This rich tale takes us back to the happenings in the life of a traditional Bengali family as the values they have come to know morph as a result of influence by forces within and outside of India. Before returning to his native city as a journalist and writer from Calcutta, Roy lived in the United States for 20 years. He grew up comfortable and protected and draws on his past experiences and the freedom and challenges he endured in America to explore his obligations, identity and honesty in Calcutta. 

One of the main characters of the story is Romola. She gets married after her overzealous family negotiates her wedding to Avinash Mitra. She then finds herself living in Illinois with her husband, a man who is forever silent and one she hardly knows. One day, she chances upon a letter that comes from India and immediately tears it open because of how homesick she is. 

Unfortunately, the letter was sent to her husband from his lover who was hoping for a life with him in the U.S, far from the shackles of Indian society. The man, named Sumit, writes to Avinash confronting him for not waiting. After she reads the contents of the letter, Romola is shocked but knows she cannot let her husband know that she knows so she hides the letter. 

In a way, he gets to keep his secret and on her part, she gets to keep silent about her knowledge of his secret. When Avinash dies years later, his son Amit comes across the second part of the letter and he automatically assumes that his mother has a secret past. As a result, the secrets of the family multiply. 

The novel travels back and forth through time giving readers a view of Romola’s and Avinash’s childhood and their youth as well as their years back in Calcutta as they raise their child together. Amit eventually moves to San Francisco, marries an American woman and becomes a father. Each chapter of Roy’s book has secrets of its own that create a beautiful tapestry. 

Romola is depicted at times as an unlikeable woman due to the repressed bitterness she carries. On the other hand, her husband, Avinash withdraws into the shadows just like anyone who has lived too long in the closet. He is the character that readers want to know about, but certainly don’t get enough of.

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