Book Review

Keya Das’s Second Act

Keya Das’s Second Act

  • Author: Sopan Deb
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Publication Date: July 5, 2022
  • Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: mention of domestic violence, racism, violence, homophobia, grief, drug use

A poignant, heartwarming, and funny debut novel about how one Bengali American family faced with tragedy, takes to the stage.

Shantanu Das is living in the shadows of his past. In his fifties, he finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community after a devastating divorce from his wife, Chaitali; he hasn’t spoken to his eldest daughter, Mitali, in months; and most excruciatingly, he lives each day with regrets about how the family’s relationship with his teenage daughter, Keya, fractured when she came out as gay. That rift was made permanent after Key’s death in a car crash.

As a painful anniversary looms, Shantanu wakes up one morning utterly alone in his suburban New Jersey home and sees it’s finally time to move on. This is when he discovers a tucked-away box in the attic. Inside is an unfinished manuscript for a play that Keya and her girlfriend were writing. Shantanu doesn’t know it yet, but the play will change his life. After he shares his revelation with Chaitali and Mitali, the family realizes there may be a way to piece together what was broken. All they need is a stage—and a lift from new friends and ghosts from the past. And above all, the Dases need to come together themselves. A story of grief, love, and the power of art, Keya Das’s Second Act is a powerful reminder that we are all capable of tremendous and inspiring change.

When I received a copy of this book from the publisher, I hadn’t heard about it before. I read the blurb and was thrilled, because it sounded really good. And after reading it, I can confidently say that it far exceeded any expectations that I went into it with. 

To start with, as someone with very little exposure to Bengali culture, there are a lot of foreign words (and no glossary), but I never felt lost or confused, since the author did a wonderful job of explaining things beautifully through context alone. And as the child of immigrants myself (although from a different culture), it also captured the way that words, phrases, and foods are integrated into American ways, especially in younger generations, while still retaining the essence of our cultural heritage.

The story centers around a defining event, Keya, the younger child of Shantanu and Chaitali, coming out to her more traditional parents, and her sister, Mitali, who don’t react well to her announcement. As a result, she pulls away from her family members, and her parents seem to work very hard to maintain a sense of normalcy. They are heavily involved in the Bengali community, where being gay isn’t seen as acceptable, and they are concerned about how it would look to their community and the effects it would have on the family at large. So instead, they focus on pretending the conversation never happened.

“Shantanu and Chaitali preserved the facade of a united family outwardly, whether in conversations with friends, co-workers, and bizarrely, each other. As far as they were concerned, the path of least resistance—pushing the memory of that talk with Keya deep into the crevices of the earth where it could never be heard from again—was the safest choice to make.”

However, this doesn’t allow them to resolve the rift in the family, leaving things unfinished between Keya and the rest of them. Instead, they just kind of give Keya the space to do her own thing, and ultimately, after several months, she winds up dying in a sudden and unexpected accident. This leaves everyone with unresolved conflict and each of them struggles with processing their own grief and other emotions individually, instead of supporting each other the way they normally would. In addition, they don’t feel as though they can rely on their community. And it pulls them apart in different ways.

“But more than anything, they each blamed themselves. In their own ways, they had made Keya feel unseen.”

I honestly thought that this story was going to be more about Keya’s unfinished play, but it ultimately ended up being more about how working on this ended up having unexpected effects on all of the people who were involved on working on it. It touches on the wide-ranging impacts, not just those affecting the immediate family, and it was heartwarming to see how far the ripple effect went. I loved this story, and will definitely be on the lookout for more books from Sopan Deb.

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