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.
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.
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.
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.
I did not find the story too compelling though, but it was entertaining enough to keep me going till the end.
The only thing i could appreciate about it is the narration style.
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.
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.
very nicely researched
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!
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.