Book Review by Amit Shankar Saha
Title: The Mark
Author: Bitan Chakraborty (translated from Bengali by Utpal Chakraborty)
Publisher: Shambhabi The Third Eye Imprint, 2020
Bitan Chakraborty is a writer, translator, editor of the Bengali print journal, Atibhuj, and the founder of Hawakal Publishers. He has authored six collections of prose and poetry. The Mark is Bitan Chakraborty’s second collection of short stories to be translated from Bengali to English. The first translated collection, published in 2016, was called Bougainvillea and Other Stories.
Utpal Chakraborty, a teacher of English literature, a bilingual poet and author has translated the seven stories in The Mark. Even though translation of a work of fiction is not as taxing as the translation of poetry, yet to convey in a language that is not native to the culture depicted in the stories is in itself a daunting challenge. Utpal Chakraborty has overcome the challenge and given the readers of English fiction a book that can speak for itself.
There is something inherently contradictory in trying to capture the sense of reality through fiction. It is like trying to paint an orange blue. And yet it is the blue colour that will attract the viewer if the painter is able to convince the viewer that it is indeed an orange despite being blue. At some point Bitan Chakraborty does exactly that. As a painter of blue oranges, Chakraborty creates within the framework of literature an illusion of reality which is seamlessly congruent with the reality itself. This dissolution of the frame that divides the fictional and the real is what art is all about.
Interestingly, both the translated volumes of Chakraborty’s short stories have forewords by the noted American poet and editor of the journal Harbinger’s Asylum, Dustin Pickering. The titles of the forewords of the two books are self-explanatory: “The Magic of Magical Realism” and “Stranger than Fiction” respectively. There is little of magical realism in this volume and yet the fiction that Chakraborty creates has a strangeness, for it is only reality that can be stranger than fiction. It is a strangeness akin to the absurdity in the dramas of Samuel Beckett.