The plot of My Kind of Girl, originally published in 1951, sounds like the beginning of a joke: a contractor, a bureaucrat, a writer, and a doctor are trapped overnight in the first-class waiting area of a train station. The book is comprised of four separate love stories, each narrated, in pre-novelistic oral tradition, by one of the stranded men. The stories are united by themes of regret and melancholy, but neither the characters nor the events coalesce to create a deeper narrative. The travelers, about whom the reader ends up knowing little even after they tell their tales, are a device for the author to write four somewhat conventional stories of romance and lost love: The doctor falls in love with his patient, the bureaucrat doesn’t marry his childhood sweetheart and regrets it, the contractor tries to buy a woman’s heart and fails, and the writer’s love dies tragically.
Despite the derivative story lines, there are many well-crafted moments of tension between characters. When the contractor saves a girl’s family from financial ruin, he visits the recipient of his generosity. "The gratitude of others is delicious, isn’t it?" she hisses in a scene that feels both intimate and raw. These moments are too few, however, and the end result is a book that feels quaint and skeletal when placed in the context of the great Indian frame narratives, including the religious epic Mahabharata, or Western entries in the genre, like The Canterbury Tales. A question remains: how much is the translator to blame for the thinness of the book? Bose (1908-1974) was a prolific Bengali writer and journalist whose work gained critical praise throughout his career. This translation, originally published in 2009 by Random House India, marks the first time this book has appeared in English. The number of awkward sentences, as exemplified in the bureaucrat’s tale—"Just as the miser cannot put his jewels out of his mind, deriving joy from the certainty that he has them, hidden away, so too was I joyous at being possessed by this joy—except that the miser fears losing it, while I feared seeing it, getting it, owning it"—suggest that a more artful translation might have yielded a stronger book.