Author: Bani Basu
Publisher: Random House India
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Bani Basu is the Sahitya Academy Award winning author of novels like The Marble Salver, Twenty One Steps, The Birth of the Maitreya etc, all of them written in Bengali. Her latest offering is The Fifth Man which has been translated into English by Arunava Sinha.
The Fifth Man, according to the blurb at the back, is “a bittersweet meditation on middle-age desire.” The plot revolves around the troubled marriage of Neelam, who has had a hysterectomy at thirty, and her husband Aritra who misses the passion of their pre-surgery days. Further complications arise in the form of Esha, an ex-girlfriend from college, Dr Mahanam Roy, the charismatic professor from this threesome’s college days and another couple with their own marital issues.
I had high hopes for the book given its illustrious pedigree but I was disappointed. I have a feeling that most of the fault lies at the translation’s doorstep because sentiments and lines that must have been poignant in Bengali seem mawkish and stilted in English. Some basic printing errors also impede the flow of the narrative. As for the plot, it seems to start out as a fine critique of inherently flawed gender roles and social institutions but soon devolves into a melodramatic soap opera. Another very puzzling thing that is really more of a personal gripe is the use of telegram as a means of communication in urban centers in what seems to be the late 1980s.
Read the book, if you can (and must), in the original Bengali.