By Yulia Federov
The Fifth Dimension: A Story of Courage Through Faith, Ramma Kher’s debut novel, follows the story of a young Indian woman who survives the loss of her husband and close friend, and undergoes a cascade of obstacles on her journey to lead a good, faithful life. With the help of friends and family members, and a fervent and undying belief in a higher power, Meera, the protagonist, faces each and every obstacle that comes her way, without ever allowing her morals to waiver.
Kher’s novel provides an in-depth look at the realities of being Indian during the mid-twentieth century. The author elaborates on the customs, traditions and often harsh realities experienced by Indians throughout those years, via her fictional characters. Topics such as racism toward brown-skinned people in Western countries, sexism and poverty within India, and the tragedies spurred by the Indo-Pakistani war, are elaborated upon in detail within the pages of this novel. As a reader, I was intrigued to learn about these topics, and to view the world through a completely different lens than my own.
Kher’s novel is full of emotion-evoking, thrill inducing and can’t-put-this-book-down moments—but its lack of structure, dense written style, and somewhat two-dimensional characters detract from the book’s good qualities.
Nearly every paragraph in this novel is heavily strung with dense, scholarly words. Although it is clear that the author made an effort to be as descriptive as possible, the lack of simplicity in her writing is one of the main drawbacks of this book. With lighter sentences and paragraphs, and less description-ladden passages, I believe this book would be far easier to follow for readers of any level.
Another drawback of this novel is its lack of structure. While I did enjoy reading the various narratives of Meera’s friends and family, the ways in which The Fifth Dimension incorporated these stories was confusing at its best. Kher’s frequent jumps from story to story forces readers to do all the work—from navigating the jumps and lapses in time, to following the sudden switches of locations, and third-person character perspectives. I, as a reader, often struggled to keep up.
Finally, I found that, while her writing was too complex, Kher’s characters in this novel were in dire need of complexity. The author’s portrayal of every person in this book as either a representation of “good” or of “evil” lent it a fairytale-like property. Of the characters portrayed as evil, few had any redeeming qualities. Likewise, of the characters portrayed as good, few showed any hint of negative or immoral thought or action. Although I understand the purpose behind a good-versus-evil story, I believe that if Kher were to add more depth and complexity to her characters, it would have made for a more realistic, less easily predictable novel.
As with any book, The Fifth Dimension is not perfect—but the stories and lessons that lie within it are worth reading. I believe that many who have not been exposed to topics such as religion, racism, grief and oppression could benefit from learning what Ramma Kher has to share through her protagonist’s story.