The Hungry Tide: A Novel

by Amitav Ghosh

Paperback, 2006

Call number





Mariner Books (2006), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages


Off the eastern coast of Inda lies an extraordinary cluster of islands known as the Sundarbans. It is a raw but a beautiful sea--a place of man-eating tigers, river dolphins, huge crocodiles and devistating tides that sweep across the terrain without remorse. In this exotic land, marine biologist Piya, fisherman Fokir and translator Kanai meet. As they travel deep into the remote archipelago, they experience a territory at risk not only from natural disaster, but also from human foolishness and volatile politics.

User reviews

LibraryThing member vpfluke
This novel brings together strands of marine biology, man eating tigers, and the special human history of the Sundarban islands located in the delta of area of the Bay of Bengal. A young American biologist of Indian heritage confronts the morays that she at first does not understand. A complex love story weaves together people whose background and motivations occasionally rub against one another. I felt like I was being given a guided tour through a country I probably will never visit, but it was always enticing in an oblique way for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member skent
Loved this book - a love story, incredible portrayal of this part of the world (Subdurbans in the Bay of Bengal) which is a world heritage site. Great characters.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I read The Hungry Tide (2004) because I wanted to learn more about the Sundarbans, the worlds largest mangrove forest. It is situated along the ocean border of India and Bangladesh at the delta of the Ganges River. I'd never heard of Sundarbans before, and was fascinated by a large wilderness area so close to one of the most densely populated regions of the world. The reason it has remained so wild is because it is one of the most dangerous places in the world: cyclones, man-eating tigers, snakes, crocodiles. Yet about 4 million substance fishermen make a living there, with a high annual death toll (over 200 deaths a year from tigers alone). It is truly a land of exotic beauty and danger, where the ancient and modern collide, fertile soil for a romantic novel.

The novel delivered on my expectations of immersion in foreign culture through a well told story. The plot is slow and labyrinthine and mysterious as it reveals its secrets, like the swamps, with sudden moments of furious danger. It is also a cultural novel. India is a country mostly of poor farmers, and their point of contact with middle-class urban professionals is a large part of the novels focus. These class interactions are helpful in understanding Indian culture today, as it rises out of third world status, at least from a middle-class perspective, for whom the novel was written for, and by. It's not a "great" novel by any means (it won't stand the test of time as India continues to change), but its enjoyable, particularly as a vehicle for learning about the Sundarbans.

I listened to the audiobook version and believe it is better than reading - the narrator (native Indian) brings the characters alive with accents and pauses and inflections, rounds them out in a way I would not have been able to imagine otherwise. It greatly adds to the sense of place in an already atmospheric novel.
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LibraryThing member fourbears
Kanai and Piya (short for Piyali) meet on a train heading for the tide country southwest of Kolkatta (Calcutta). Both are Bengali, but live their lives at a fair distance from their roots. Kanai lives in New Dehli, running his own successful translation business that caters to a growing business community. Piya grew up in Seattle where he parents immigrated and she never even learned to speak Bangla. Kanai is going to visit an aunt he hasn’t seen since childhood when he was banished to her town in the tide country because of insolence and misbehavior at school. Now she wants him to go over some papers of her deceased husband, Kanai’s uncle. Piya is a cetologist who studies river dolphins of which there are supposed to be plenty in the river delta country toward which they are heading. Kanai, a bachelor and womanizer, finds Piya attractive and a good prospect for a holiday affair. Piya is somewhat turned off by Kanai’s sophistication and air of superiority, far too independent to fall in with his plans. But he has one thing she doesn’t have—fluency in Bangla, as well as connections in the islands.The story introduces a part of the world I didn’t know anything about, hadn’t in fact ever heard of, though I had heard of floods in Bangladesh. It’s the mouth of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and some other rivers too at the top of the Bay of Bengal. The “tide country”, including some of both India and Bangladesh, is a series of low-lying islands called the Sundarbans. So low-lying that in order to be inhabited, they need to have embankment’s behind which it’s safe to build; otherwise just ordinary tides would flood houses and businesses. Huge crocodiles inhabit the waters and tigers roam the uninhabited land and visit civilization often enough. And like the Mississippi Delta in the US, the land is subject to powerful storms, called cyclones, not hurricanes, in Asia. The human settlements in the Sundarbans are isolated and deaths from crocodiles and tigers are common. Cyclones wash over entire islands and rearrange the land, wiping out one island and creating another. There’s must emphasis on preservation of the wild environments, sometimes to the exclusion of the people who live there; the government isn’t particularly concerned about death by tiger or even by cyclone. In the sense the lives of the tigers are more valuable to India than the lives of the people.Piya has studied river dolphins in the Mekong and other Asian locations and is used to working alone. She hires a boat run by the militant forest police and ends up regretting it. After she’s thrown off in an unfortunate accident she hooks up with a crab fisherman and his son in a small, unpowered boat. They have no language in common, but manage to make themselves understood and under Piya’s instruction, Fokir uses the boat to track the paths of the Irawaddy Dolphins they find there. They stay out for several days and collect significant data. Piya sees a project worthy of her life’s work in describing these lives and habitats of these dolphins. She’s used to living for days in primitive conditions, consumes mostly nutrition bars and bottled water wherever she is. Fokir turns out to the be perfect research companion.Meanwhile back at Lusibari (Lucy’s Island as named by the British, though this one is a fictional island) Kanai is focused on his uncle’s papers and the uncle, Nirmal’s, fight for the displaced people living on one of the deserted islands, Morichjhapi. Kanai’s interest is peaked because as a young boy he’s met Kuma, a young woman at the time, who’d worked with his aunt. Separately Piya and Kanai become emotionally involved with the islands and their people, he by focusing on Kuma and the past, she by focusing on Fokir and the present. It turns out that Fokir is Kuma’s son. The climax of the book is a trip on the boat of Fokir’s uncle, with Piya along to direct the research and Kanai to translate.Ghosh skillfully weaves Piya’s story and Kanai’s together and at the same time weaves together the fabric of the past and the present of the Sundarbans, science and literature, politics and business, public and private life.… (more)
LibraryThing member thejohnsmith
A beautifully written story that pulled me into the life and times of the characters and the world they experience. Very enjoyable.
LibraryThing member akeela
The setting – the Sundarbans, an immense archipelago of islands between the sea and plains of Bengal, on the east coast of India – is as important a character in this novel as the other personalities. It provides a tranquil background fraught with secrets and hidden dangers.

Against this setting, we have the impassioned Piya, an American of Indian parentage who has come here to pursue her life's work – finding and researching rare dolphins in the waters of the Sundarbans. Add to the mix Kanai Dutt, a womanising Indian businessman who is there at the request of his aunt, a local figure, and Fokir, an illiterate man, who understands the waters and Piya's enthusiasm and is able to take her to the heart of the action. There is also Fokir's unsettled wife, Moyna.

There are a number of stories and myths within the story, as well as the struggles of the settlers in the region that make for interesting reading. All in all, a good read.
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LibraryThing member Nehamahajan
Wow! i did not realize how much the book gave me until i finished reading it today. beautiful language, capturing imagination and mesmerizing effect of the spirit of the story. i really enjoyed 'dukhey's redemption' ballad. and the whole of it. :)
LibraryThing member manguni
One of the many enjoyable aspects of literature from outside of the West is that its locus is often a sense of place, and Ghosh's book is no exception. 'The Hungry Tide' is as much about the physical and cultural construction of the Sundarbans as it is about the characters. Much to Ghosh's credit, he is able to weave local languages into the text, explaining their meaning through the stories that connect the people who live there to a beautiful and dangerous place. The novel is rich in the way it makes us understand the way that human life has evolved in tandem with the challenges of living the tidelands and mangroves where the story is set.

With such a rich and culturally nuanced view of how the residents of Sundarbans lives are linked, you would expect that Ghosh's characters would be just as vivid and nuanced. This is not the case. I was dissapointed by the flatness of the main characters, who other than the local Fokir, who we come to know through his kinship with his environment, are very one-dimensional. Although the book evokes a place, the main characters in fact explore another theme - the experience of those with no place, of people who don't belong, don't have a history that ties them to any particular locale. Both Piya, the nomadic researcher, and the city academic who returns home to visit his Aunt in Sundarbans, seem to function as rather shallow examples of lives lived with no connections to a home or homeland. They lack the complexity of the characters who are perihperal in the story, such as Fokir's wife, who we feel for in her obvious humanity and complexity.

The very pat resolution of the novel also bothered me. The main characters seem to find their place, unproblematically, in Sundarbans, despite the underlying storyline that explicates the extreme risk and difficulty of life there. Was Ghosh trying to make the point that modern, educated people without place can settle anywhere because of the shallow nature of their connections? I'm not certain that was his intent. Either way, whatever statement he was trying to make about social class, place and culture in this novel became muddled somewhere along the line.

Overall, an interesting read both culturally and geographically, but not a particularly gripping story. Will be enjoyable for anyone who is interested in Indian history, society and language.
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LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Finished The Hungry Tide last night and I have to say, it's a really good book; just different enough without veering into the experimental. Good solid writing, relatable characters, good background information about the region and the study of river dolphins there, folk tales; maybe not for those without a bit of patience but there's a lot more plot than I expected for a book of 'place.' I'd say a 4 and will definitely read more by Ghosh.… (more)
LibraryThing member judithann
An interesting read: I liked the way the different people and their priorities were described. There was the Indian-background woman from America, the well-to-do Indian city-man, and the villagers who still lived quite a simple life.

I did not find the story too compelling though, but it was entertaining enough to keep me going till the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member punxsygal
India, Sunderbans, river dophins, science
LibraryThing member nandinimoitra
a good book. has a colloquil touch in it.reflects the distress of the displaced people
LibraryThing member ebethe
Not nearly as good as Glass Palace, a more difficult read, not something that I could really jump into.
LibraryThing member bysunil
This book is slow paced as well as a dull read.
The only thing i could appreciate about it is the narration style.
LibraryThing member glindapenguin
I came across this book in the library, I'd been recommended Sea of Poppies but I'm always a little wary of starting a trilogy when the rest of the books aren't out yet, so I looked for other books by the same author. The Hungry Tide is an utterly fascinating book for all that it doesn't have a huge amount of plot going on. I honestly couldn't have given a toss about the potential romance between Piya and Kanai. Piya's research, her exploring the rivers with Horen and Tutul as they follow the paths of the river dolphins, the animals and geography of the Sundarbans, Kanai's uncle's notebook and the hospital his aunt runs were far more interesting to me. The tide country and its people and history were vividly rendered and I could have gone on reading about it and the Dolphins for another 400 pages.… (more)
LibraryThing member whirled
As far as I can recall, The Hungry Tide was the first piece of Indian fiction I've read. It has whet my appetite to learn more about a region of the world I know little about, though I don't know that I'll return to this author. Perhaps something may have been lost in translation, but Ghosh seemed to take a long time to build momentum (which would have been fine if the writing itself had not been a bit spartan and dull). I found the parts involving animals - regarding Piya's dolphin research and the final, terrifying encounter with a tiger - were the strongest and most interesting. Mildly entertaining.… (more)
LibraryThing member isabelx
I started this, but I couldn't get into it at all. I'll release it at the next Nottingham meet-up, and hope that it finds someone who will get on better with it than me.
LibraryThing member TadAD
I enjoyed the book a lot when I read it. When I think back about it, however, I realize that it is the view on life in the Sundarbans mangrove forests that I enjoyed so much. The main characters did not seem to have a great deal of depth to them. In fact, I was somewhat surprised at the ending as, without the emotional depth, it didn't seem that believable to me. Nonetheless, I recommend this as a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member auntmarge64
Three disparate characters meet in the Sundarbans, the swampy Bay of Bengal mangrove forest at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers. A young cetologist, originally from India but raised in the U.S., has come to see if she can find remnants of a dolphin population long thought gone from the area. She develops friendships with a local fisherman who seems to have an instinct for the waters and their wildlife (but speaks no English) and with a New Delhi-based linguist who is visiting in the area and agrees to serve as a translator.

The plot is developed in ways that give the author a wide opportunity for exploring the natural and human history of the area, and there is a huge amount of information Westerners will normally not have run across. Although some of the locations mentioned are fictional, much of the historical information is based on real events and real locations. The story is packed with background material, sometimes seeming a little forced into the storyline, but overall the reader will walk away satisfied with a good story and a comprehensive introduction to a little-known part of the world.

This is the first work by Ghosh I've read but it won't be the last, that's for sure.
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LibraryThing member SAGibson
This novel has extremely interesting parts and slow parts. I enjoyed the beginning, the part around 100 pages and the last 50 pages. The stories of the two main characters are compelling and work well when the lives of the two become entangled.

I was interested in the story of the landscape and the information about river dolphins. Like many other reviewers, I did lose patience with the 100s of pages of detail about the dolphins and nature. I do not blame the author. I think the information is not wasted, but I did not have the patience.

The characters seem full of life to me. I was interested in all of them. I even like that I am disappointed in some of them. We find that the characters are not perfect but have feet of clay.

All in all it is a good serious drama that is well crafted. Readers must be willing to devote a great deal of time to get through the thick book and understand the payoffs are for some characters and not everyone has a happy ending.
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LibraryThing member rajveerspace
the story tells everything about the sundarban.
very nicely researched
LibraryThing member dragon178
Amitav Ghosh’s novels are a structuralist’s nightmare. Structuralists, having a binary perspective of the world, see everything in terms of Either / Or, ignoring the grey between the blacks and whites.
Amitav Ghosh revels in dissolving the boundaries between conventionally understood binaries. In The Shadow Lines, he dissolved geographical as well as temporal boundaries. In The Hungry Tide, he goes further--- he focuses on the middle ground between Land and Sea, fresh water Rivers and salt water Oceans, Language and Silence as means of communication, Prose and Poetry, Fact and Fiction, so that the reader’s never sure what he’s grappling with.
The entire novel abounds in these juxtapositions, but I will refer to one example, the part of the book that I liked best. This is the chapter titled The Gift, and is about the gift that Kanai gives to Piyali. The chapter starts in normal prose, but somewhere midstream you realise that there’s a lilt in your reading, and you’re actually chanting what seems to be a hymn. It is actually the hymn of Bon Bibi, but not in the original Bengali. Though the words are English, yet Ghosh captures the ‘dwipodi poyar’ that is the prosody of the original. You realise that the words rhyme, but so insidiously does it creep upon you that you experience a Eureka moment.
Though the characters are drawn sketchily, the protagonist Kanai caught my attention, because as a woman, I consider him a typical Indian male—chauvinistic and patronising. The author also makes no bones about painting him in an unflattering light: ‘Kanai like to think that he had the true connoisseur’s ability to both praise and appraise women’ later in the story he describes him as possessing the wide legged stance of a man with the self -confidence to prevail in all but the most trying circumstances. However, he is the only character who evolves in the book; the others are more or less static, even Fokir, for whom Piyali has a soft corner. Kanai experiences an epiphany in the course of the novel, and he sheds his self-absorption to actually desire the happiness of another person even if if comes at the cost of his own.
Another delightful idea is about rainbows caused by moonlight. While I have had the good fortune to see a double rainbow while flying across the Nicobar Sea in a helicopter, seeing a rainbow by moonlight would be the ultimate. One more item for my bucket list!
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LibraryThing member RajivC
This is, in general, a well-written book. Amitav Ghosh has a way with words, and it shows. There are times when the writing is almost lyrical, and this is the part of the book that I like.

The part that I don't like, is that it is a very stereo-typed book, and the story line is boring. Indian-American girl comes to India-meets rustic fellow who knows the land-shoos off the urban fellow-gets into mystic relationship with rustic chap-he dies-she discovers India.

Gosh, so many books and movies cover this theme. This is a book that I do not recommend.
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LibraryThing member vonChillan
The Sundarbans have always been a subject of awe to me, since the days I read Salgari books as a child. In this novel they keep the mistery, the allure as well as thedanger. Tigers, political refugees, river dolphins and much, much more is brought into play in this, probably the most accomplished book by the Bengali author
LibraryThing member pinetastic
I feel unworthy to review this beautifully written book. Ghosh's writing put a bit of a spell on me. The characters are rich and lovely.




061871166X / 9780618711666


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