Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Reviewed by Denise Kong

don't let him knowDon’t Let Him Know is a multi-stranded tale, whose protagonists struggle to find their social, sexual and familial identities against the cultural backdrops of India and USA.

The story follows the extended Mitra family through several decades.  Romola and Avinash enter into a perfectly serviceable arranged marriage, but Avinash has always known that he was gay, and Romola yearns for something more than the conventional life on offer to a married woman.

This no Romeo and Juliet; the story is told with humour and affection, rather than pathos and drama.  The people of this world are pragmatic, warm and accepting.  For example, Avinash’s mother describes the suicide of a young newly wed man thus:

“That poor young wife… Thank God, girls these days get educated… People said he had a love affair.  I tell you, these are modern times.  He could have just told his parents.  I mean how bad could it be – maybe she was older than him, or a different religion or something like that.  Eventually his family would have adjusted.”

However, there are still rules that have to be followed.  While Avinash’s mother is sympathetic to the young man’s situation, she also acknowledges that  “Of course his family had to say that it was an accident.”

In these circumstances, Avinash’s exploration of his gay side is fraught with danger and anxiety, as well as thrill.  From his first shy encounters as an adolescent, to the risk of physical violence in pick up spots, Avinash’s yearning is both sweet and bitter, always touching.

This is a book about secrets on different scales.  It is just as compelling to read about the secret marmalade making of Avinash’s aged grandmother, as his night time adventures in the park.  Avinash’s grandmother is something of a family legend, a difficult woman, harried by Romola and other family members into ‘behaving’.  But seen through the eyes of Romola and Avinash’s son Amit, she is as equally rebellious against the expectations and constraints as any of the rest of the family.

There are several character viewpoints in this novel.  Moving from one character to another, building sympathy with all of them, even when they conflict with each other, is something that Sandip Roy does very well.  Similarly, the characters age well, remaining recognisably constant, while being layered with different experiences, so that each change and challenge subtly alters them .

Although the action spans several decades, this is quite a short novel and achieves its effects through detailed, intimate scenes.  It’s a warm, sensitively written family saga that gives you a real flavour of a life of change, caught between continents.

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Denise blogs at listenwatchreadshare.wordpress.com

Sandip Roy, Don’t Let Him Know (Bloomsbury: London, 2015). 9781408856635, 246pp, hardback.

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