Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay

Title and Author: The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay
English Translator: Sreejata Guha
No. of Pages: 315
Publication Date: originally in 1950s; This book by Penguin India (9 May 2006)
Genre: Classics, Detective Fiction, Bengali Literature, English Translation, Anthology, Indian Literature
Language: English (originally in Bengali)

Book Review:

Byomkesh Bakshi is an evergreen character of a Bengali Investigator who despised the word "Detective" to describe his profession but instead liked to call himself a "Truth Seeker". Resembling a little like Sherlock Holmes, Byomkesh can be said to be the Indian Sherlock.

I truly fell in love with him after watching the very famous TV series based on his cases that aired on Doordarshan and featured Rajit Kapoor as Byomkesh. It was this TV series in Hindi that brought the Bengali character created by Saradindu Bandopadhyay into our non-Bengali knowledgeable homes and made this character so well known outside the Bengali community.

The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries contains four cases of Byomkesh that are translated in English by Sreejata Guha. I had been on the lookout for good translations of Byomkesh's cases either in Hindi or English to read and when a friend recommended this book, I just had to read it myself to know if the true essence of the mysteries had been preserved in these translations or not.


The cover of the book is not attractive and it is only the title, the author's name and the blurb that will attract readers towards this book at first glance.

4 mysteries are covered in the book, namely: The Menagerie (Chidiyakhana), The Jewel Case (Monimondon), The Will That Vanished (Khunji Khunji Nari) and The Quills of the Porcupine (Shajarur Kanta). The cases are not in any order but this does not hamper the entertainment value in the least.

The English translation by Sreejata Guha is skillfully done and she manages to capture the essence of Bengal in the year range of 1953 to 67. Her descriptions create a mental picture of that time when life was not as chaotic and yet crime and criminals were just as cunning as today!

For people like me who don't understand Bengali and so cant read the original work of the author, her translation of the four later cases of Byomkesh Bakshi's life are like a breath of fresh air and very enjoyable. Nowhere did the translation feel odd but instead merged beautifully to bring out dialogues just like they would have been woven in the Bengali original.

All the four cases covered in this book are among the best of Byomkesh's career and I loved reading them. A great addition to my book collection, this book is a must have and one that can be read and re-read any number of times. The cases are intelligent, brain exercising and still as shocking in their solution even after decades and after leaps in scientific development!

All in all, The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay is a must read and I strongly recommend it to all lovers of mystery and suspense. Take a ride down the history lane to a Bengal in India of the past and follow Byomkesh and Ajit as they tackle unconventional crimes and criminals. 4.5 out of 5 to this book and I hope the publishers and Sreejata bring out translations of the other Byomkesh stories too!




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