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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Golden Fortress

Satyajit Ray

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To purchase The Golden Fortress

Title: The Golden Fortress
Author: Satyajit Ray
Genre: Novel
Written: 1971 (Eng.1988)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: The Golden Fortress - US
The Golden Fortress - UK
The Golden Fortress - Canada
The Golden Fortress - India
in The Complete Adventures of Feluda (1) - India
বোম্বাইয়ের বোম্বেটে - India
in El bucanero de Bombay - España
DVD: Sonar Kella - US
Sonar Kella - UK
  • A Feluda novel
  • Bengali title: সোনার কেল্লা
  • Translated by Chitrita Banerji
  • Also published in The Adventures of Feluda (1988)
  • Also translated by Gopa Majumdar (2000), and published in The Complete Adventures of Feluda (vol. 1)
  • The Golden Fortress was made into a film in 1974, directed by Satyajit Ray

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Our Assessment:

B : quite simple and a bit plodding but has its charms

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Golden Fortress was not the first of Satyajit Ray's stories and novels featuring private investigator Prodosh/Pradosh Mitter (the anglicized version of Mitra), known as Feluda, but it opens the first collection of these translated into English, The Adventures of Feluda (1988) -- presumably, among other reasons also because it was one of the two Feluda-tales that Satyajit Ray himself filmed.
       Ray wrote the first Feluda story in 1965, when he revived an old family magazine, Sandesh, and their popularity led him to keep on writing them, a total of thirty-four works in all. As both he and his wife mention in their introductory notes to The Adventures of Feluda, the stories were written with a younger audience in mind -- Ray calls Sandesh a "children's magazine" -- and if not exactly cramping his style, that did impose some limitations on the stories: "No illicit love, no crime passionel, and only a modicum of violence" (a source of some frustration: his wife reports: "After finishing each story, he would throw up his hands and say, 'I have run out of plots. How can one possibly go on writing detective stories without even a hint of sex and hardly any violence to speak of ?'"). The works are certainly a lot tamer, in most respects, than most contemporary detective fiction, but they long also appealed to adult audiences and, while not particularly challenging (in any respect), don't read as dumbed down or simply for younger audiences. (In The Golden Fortress Ray manages to avoid even the hint of the risqué by basically avoiding any interaction whatsoever with any female figures, with practically not a woman in sight, much less involved in the story.)
       The tales are narrated by Feluda's cousin -- fifteen years old here --, Tapesh (also called Topshe); 'Feluda' comes from Pradosh's nickname 'Felu': as Ray explains: "the suffix 'da' (short for 'dada') means an elder brother" (though in fact Feluda and Topshe are cousins). Though based in Calcutta, they seem willing and able to venture far afield at the drop of a hat -- so also here, where they eventually cross the entire country and wind up not very far from the border with Pakistan, in Jaisalmer.
       The story begins with the father of a boy named Mukul approaching Feluda for help. A story about Mukul appeared in the newspaper a week earlier, as the eight-year-old boy claimed to be able to recall his past life; his father reports that he vividly describes a world that he has obviously never been to (in his current incarnation ...) and that he barely registers his present surroundings: "his whole being seems to be somewhere else [...] The boy hardly ever looks at us when he speaks". Unfortunately, the newspaper article mentioned, among other things, not only that the boy recalled a Golden Fortress, but also a treasure hidden there. When a neighbor boy who looks at lot like Mukul was kidnapped, the father got worried that people were after Mukul, presumably believing him to be the key to finding said treasure. And unfortunately the father can't keep a watchful eye on Mukul, who isn't around: in a somewhat disconcerting twist, they'd let an "eminent parapsychologist", Dr. Hemanga Hajra, who took a professional interest in the case whisk him off to Rajasthan to look for the Golden Fortress:

If we can turn up at the right place, I'm sure your son will remember many more things. And that will be of great help to me. I'll pay for all his expenses, and I'll look after him most carefully -- you don't have to worry about a thing.
       Yeah, right .....
       The doctor and the boy are already long gone when the neighbor boy is kidnapped -- and Mukul's father now wants Feluda to head to Rajasthan and scope out the situation:
Of course, if you go and find that they are safe, then there's nothing more to be done. But in case you find there's been some trouble -- well, you know, I've also heard a lot about your courage.
       Feluda takes the case, and takes Topshe along. Along the way, they pick up a part-time traveling companion, Lalmohan Ganguly, a successful author of pulp thrillers who writes under the pseudonym Jatayu (who will appear in several later Feluda mysteries too), a somewhat hapless but very eager fellow. They also, soon enough, come across Mukul and Dr. Hajra, who are visiting fortress after fortress, looking for the golden one that Mukul remembers from some past life. Mukul is indeed a dreamy youngster, prone to wandering and otherwise drifting off, but he seems unharmed; all seems well. But there are some suspicious characters and signs -- with Feluda even getting a threatening letter ("If you value your life -- go back to Calcutta immediately"), and Dr. Hajra moves on quite suddenly with Mukul, to check out another potential site, Jaisalmer. Feluda and company follow them, but it becomes ever clearer that someone is trying to prevent them from reaching their destination.
       Eventually, of course -- after exciting trips by car, train, and camel -- everyone reaches Jaisalmer -- which is indeed the location of the Golden Fortess Mukul means, and it comes to the expected showdowns -- with a surprise or two still in store.
       Even author Jatayu observes along the way: "Whatever you may say, this is a situation straight out of a novel" -- and there may be moments when readers might agree with him when he also notes: "I must say I would enjoy all this much more if I only had a better idea of what's going on". But the veils are ultimately lifted, the explanations falling fairly neatly into place; if somewhat confusing and complicated getting there, the plot is ultimately a simple one. There is arguably a bit much identity-confusion, but there's also some purpose to it, and if one can get past the premises -- of a family allowing their eight-year-old son to be taken cross-country by a stranger (who, regardless of how esteemed in his field is, as a parapsychologist, surely by definition dubious), not to mention the idea that the boy can see past lives -- it's a reasonably gripping story, with good action and some fun back and forth. (Of course, everyone -- or at least a number of the actors -- believing in the boy's visions is a necessary part of the story, the promise of the hidden treasure luring the nefarious elements to get in on the action.)
       The Golden Fortress is unexceptional, but it's perfectly fine light (and quite tame) thriller fun -- and Ray is quite good at presenting his characters, with Jatayu, in particular, an entertaining addition to the cast as comic foil.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 July 2019

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The Golden Fortress: Reviews: সোনার কেল্লা - the film: Satyajit Ray: Other books by Satyajit Ray under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Filmmaker Satyajit Ray (সত্যজিৎ রায়; 1921-1992) also wrote a great deal of fiction.

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© 2019-2022 the complete review

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