Food Novel Books

The heart wants more: Review of Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta’s ‘Those Delicious Letters’

U.S.-settled Bengali Indian Shubhalaxmi Sen-Gupta has just turned 40 when she receives an unexpected mail (the kind delivered by the post office) from her grandmother — ‘Didan’ — all the way from Kolkata. But her grandmother passed away years ago: the communication is clearly a case of mistaken identity.

Shubha wants to return the growing pile of letters — one for each month of the Bengali calendar — but cannot bring herself to do so immediately. Didan and her loving words strike a chord with the middle-aged homemaker juggling children, husband and work as she tries to find purpose in a faraway land.

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The letters also pry open a forgotten door to memories, both precious and painful, and may just hold the answer to what’s missing in her life. Didan seems to relive her own youth and life through the letters, and the glimpses they offer of pre-Independence society are fascinating.

Egged on by Didan’s words and quiet courage, Shubha begins her journey of acceptance and self-discovery. Food and memories of Kolkata become the foundation on which she builds her new identity.

The book is peppered with detailed recipes, from that of niramish mangsho to kheer’r sondesh: to the author’s credit, she manages to do equal justice to food, fact and fiction in the novel.

But the heart wants more: the eager reader wishes there was more to hold on to in Shubha’s story. In quite a few places, the story picks up pace with a new challenge or conundrum only to fizzle out in the subsequent pages. A lot of the tension seems to originate and resolve itself in the space of a thought in the protagonist’s head. Maybe that’s life, but it deprives the reader of a good finish.

The other characters too remain on the margins — mostly inconsequential. At least a couple of those could have been developed to add further layers to the story.

Those Delicious Letters; Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta; HarperCollins; ₹299

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 5:50:48 AM |

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