on May 20, 2005
I had never heard of the Sundarbens prior to reading this book. I will never forget them after reading it. I could not put this book down, and it is on my list of best books for the past year. The characters come from different places, yet come together through fate and circumstances. Ghosh gives us love stories interwoven throughout, and actually until the end we are not sure how these will play out. He writes great adventure and nature scenes, and introduces natural elements that most will not be familiar with. He will make you think about the environment and its inhabitants in several different ways (spoiler-tigers and residents, dolphins and residents-compare and contrast). It will make you think of your own hospitality. It has spirituality and myth interwoven throughout as well as their expression in poetry. Yet somehow all these different elements come together in the geographic setting of the story. The storm scenes will remain etched on my mind for years to come (compare it to the storm in The Perfect Storm). This book will make you look at what is most important posession wise in times of crisis and during regular times. His characters are well developed and defined, and I could picture each and everyone in my mind's eye. They are unforgettable. I cannot recommend this book enough, but at the same time I don't want to provide any spoilers. Brilliant writing. Confirms my own belief that India will be my next big trip. Take a chance on a book that is very different and just read it, you will be hungry for more!
on April 26, 2007
"The Hungry Tide" is the first novel by Amitav Ghosh I read. I am very interested in India and read a lot of Indian authors, but somehow Ghosh had escaped my attention. Till now - because now I will definitely read his other books.
I was drawn to "The Hungry Tide" by its setting - the action takes place in the Sundarbans, the archipelago in the Bengal Bay, at the mouth of the Ganges, partially belonging to India and partially to Bangladesh, where the fresh river water mixes with the saltwater from the ocean. The tides make the Sundarbans a difficult place to live for humans, but, at the same time, a unique habitat for fauna and flora. The mangrove swamps are dominant, and they provide the shelter for many species of animals, which are specific to the region or very rare in other areas. The example is the Royal Bengal Tiger, a man-eater, featuring in "The Hungry Tide" together with several species of dolphins and deadly crocodiles.
The novel starts with the meeting of two main characters, Piyali (Piya), an Indian-American field biologist specialized in dolphins, and Kanai, a sophisticated interpreter and businessman, on the train to Canning. Piya has a plan to collect data on the life of the rare river dolphins, which are the subject of her research. Kanai was summoned by his aunt, Nilima, to the island of Lusibari (he spent there only one summer as a schoolboy), where she runs a charity, to get the package left to him in the will of his late uncle, Nirmal, a leftist schoolteacher with literary ambitions. Kanai is interested in Piya, and when they part in Canning, he invites her to Lusibari.
From this point, the narration is separated into alternating chapters devoted to the doings of Piya and Kanai. Piya gets her travel permit and goes by motorboat to see the dolphins with the national forest guard and a thug of a boat owner. The accident, in which she nearly drowns, leaves her on the small fishing rowboat belonging to Fokir, a poor fisherman from Lusibari. Since then, Piya's fate is connected with Fokir's. After seeing some dolphins, they go to Lusibari and organize a bigger expedition, in which Kanai participates as a translator. The tension between the three becomes difficult to bear...
The novel is full of extraordinary, powerful characters. Each protagonist has very distinct characteristics and all of them stand out of the crowd. They are all strongly tied to the Sundarbans, but each of them understands the life in the islands differently: Fokir is rooted in the old traditions; his wife, Moyna, who trains to be a nurse, wants to have a better life and help the local people; Nilima runs a charity - a hospital, a guest house and educational services; Piya and Kanai become infected with the Sundarbans and want to go back...
I liked the construction of the novel, which, in addition to alternating chapters about Piya and Kanai, which finally merge, has many other threads, most important of which is Nirmal's notebook, which Kanai is reading, and which reports the events leading to Nirmal's death. These events are, of course, the happenings essential in the newest history of the Sundarbans. Nirmal, who is an admirer of Rilke, quotes Rilke's poems all the time (sometimes, to me , a little too freely, and I cannot see the connection between his thoughts and Rilke's lines, but - licentia poetica...).
There is also an evocation of the local myth of the goddess Bon Bibi, which is beautifully woven into the story.
I could compare "The Hungry Tide" to James Michener's novels, it is in the same way well researched (Ghosh is an anthropologist so his interest and knowledge of the natural sciences are profound) and concentrates on the specific region. Unlike Michener though, Ghosh tells one actual story and his book is a real novel, not an attempt to span the centuries of history, so it is way less superficial and concentrated on the characters.
on October 1, 2004
Amitav Ghosh is a master of the genre "Fictionalized Thesis". Before this one he excelled in ' In An Antique Land' in mixing fiction with facts gathered through painstaking research and the synergy turns out to be extraordinarily capable of conveying the message creating the desired effect. Though he extensively deals with science, Ghosh has appeared to nurture mystic elements within his basic views of the world, history. He seems to believe in destiny and recognizes omen as would be evident through his 'Calcutta Chromosome' also. His perception of history has its full quota of heroes. As he lamented in 'Dancing in Cambodia At Large in Burma' that the postmodern world has taken away from the middle class its heroes, here (in Hungry Tides) he is very firm in acknowledging them in his definition of things. And, as always, with a quotation of Rilke here and a passionate interpretation of his own there, he enthralls the poetically oriented one to one's heart's content.
Sundarbans, a vast forest that insulates the inland of lower Bengal in India from the ocean, is slowly being denuded of its bio-diversity; the ecological balance is seriously being threatened. And all these are because the life of the ordinary, extremely poor people living there do not count for anything to the political establishments. As the scientist Mr. Piddington warned, if the forest is itself endangered that is certainly to diminish the possibility of Calcutta being protected any more against the devastating oceanic storms of Bay of Bengal. Interestingly that threat of a sad destiny where the guilty will not be spared destruction is hinted at very clearly through a metaphorical local tale of Bon-bibi and Dakshin Rai among the dwellers of Sundarbans. The educated city people, the enlightened, unfortunately live in a translated world of their own and they failed to interpret the meaning of science, progress, civilization to the under-privileged, neither have the plight of these hapless people been earnestly conveyed to the outer world which could extend an effective helping hand. Ghosh attempts to bring back the memories of S'Daniel Hamilton to stress upon the importance of true enlightenment and indomitable human spirit keeping aside unnecessary categorizations of revolutionary, bourgeois, secular, pagan and so on. The author exhibits a rare sincerity in describing the life of the underprivileged but struggling people of Sundarbans with true respect. A hint of a development of romance between an illiterate boatman Fakir and the US born cetologist Piyali Roy who studies marine mammals, has been a remarkable technique to steer the narrative with cohesion.
And about the dolphins - appreciation of the book and its subsequent popularity will create innumerable experts and well-wishers all over the world -no doubt about that!
on May 5, 2006
This is the first book of Amitav Ghosh that I read and wondered how I missed his other books. He uses Sundarban penninsula where river Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal for the background of his story. Being born in that area his description of Sundarbans is very authentic. He, literally, takes you there. The American girl of Indian origin, Piya, middle age- approaching -bachelor -Kanai and an illiterate, married fisherman Fokir are the main characters in the story. Piya develops emotional entanglements while cruising on Fokir's boat, researching on Oracella dolphins.
Kanai seems to be more urban and more worldly character.
It indeed looks Mr. Ghosh has made quite a deep study of Oracella dolphins himself. He has also been able to infuse some suspense at the end of the book. The description of the typhoon is wonderful. Also the description of peoples' life in Sundaban - the perils they face everyday, makes a chilling reading.
I enjoyed the Legend of Bob bibi and Dokhin Rai. Mr. Ghosh must have been very sympathetic to settlers on Moritjapi. But I felt the story could have been more powerful if he could have cut down the descrition of refugees' fight there.
Finally, I wondered what this book was about. Is it about a love triangle? Is it a treatise on Oracella dolphins? Is it based on the theme of man versus nature? I couldn't figure out and frankly, I don't care. Because Mr. Ghosh is master of the words. He has handled all the three aspects so well that they caught my interest throughout the novel. He is a champion when it comes to use words to paint emotions. Even the writing on Oracella dolphins was interesting to me.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It would be good read, especially on rainly holidays.
on May 2, 2008
This book kept me up past my bedtime last night, although I found it not entirely convincing. Still, parts were enthralling. Ghosh throws together an American cetacean researcher of Indian descent, a translator from New Delhi, an illiterate fisherman, and the turbulent landscape of the Sundarbans, and comes up with a tale that is part adventure story, part romance, part history and resonates with the hybrid mythology of its location throughout.
But while there is much to be savored in this novel, it flounders a bit in describing straightforward adult interactions--people explain themselves (in their thoughts and out loud) rather woodenly.
Still, it kept me reading, and I was glad to learn about a part of the world I'd barely even heard of. But I've enjoyed other Ghosh books more.
"The Tigers in India" is a short essay by William James in which he contrasted knowing that there were tigers in India by hearing about them from knowing that there were tigers in India by actually seeing and coming into contact with them. Amitav Ghosh's fine novel "The Hungry Tide" made me feel I knew the man-eating tigers of India in this second, more intimate way. Ghosh's novel is at its best when it describes the wild, untamable and fierce qualities of nature which do not bend to human will. The novel is full of vivid descriptions of tigers and their human prey, crocodiles, snakes, large forests of mangroves, storms, and fatal typhoons.
"The Hungry Tide" is set in a remote part of northeast India known as the Sundarbans which consists of thousands of small islands formed by the interflux of two rivers as they flow into the Bay of Bengal. Life is precarious with shifting islands, tigers and other predators, poor soil, and minimal contact with the outside world. Ghosh describes the people of the Sundarbans, their history, and their struggles with the natural world. He made me yearn to visit this unfamiliar place.
The novel develops slowly. There are three major and a host of secondary characters. It is a great deal to follow and absorb. The first primary character is Piya, a young American scholar of Indian descent. She is a student of marine mammals and has come to the Sudabar to study the river dolphin. We learn a great deal about dolphins in this book, but the descriptions don't have the vividness of the scenes with the tigers or crocodiles. The second main character, Kanai, is urbane, 42 years old, a successful translator, and a womanizer. He is in the Sundarbans at the request of his aunt Nilina who wants him to read a journal left by her late husband, Nirmal. Nilina is a pragmatist and activist who has built her life by helping others and creating a hospital on a small island. Her husband, a would-be poet, radical, and dreamer lived in her shadow. His journal tells the story of a group of Bangaladeshi immigrants who were forced out of a Forest Reserve in the Sundarbans by the Indian government in order to preserve the tigers.
The third main character is an uneducated fisherman named Fokir. Fokir comes to Piya's rescue at several points in the novel and he helps her find dolphins. Fokir doesn't speak English and he and Piya cannot verbally communicate. Fokir's wife Moyna has struggled to get an education and to become a nurse. There are tensions between her and her illiterate husband.
The portions of the book that deal with nature and the Sundarbans interthread with the stories and relationships of the characters. In particular, Ghosh explores the tension between love and sexuality on on hand and education and career on the other hand, especially as this tension applies to women. This theme is developed in three characters: Piya has seemingly abandoned the possibility of a committed relationship in order to pursue her research on the river dolphin. She must identify and struggle with her developing feelings for both Fokir and Kanai. Nilima became an organizer and a force in the Sundarbans by building the hospital and organizing the community while her schoolteacher husband remained on the sidelines -- creating unhappiness between them. Fokir and Moyna struggle to raise their son and keep their marriage in the face of the differences between them in education and ambition. Ghosh subtly develops this theme throughout the book. He shows how changing gender roles and expectations affect both life in the developed world of the United States and urban India and in rural, isolated areas such as the Sundarbans.
There are many other themes, including the modern conservation movement, explored with understanding and balance in Ghosh's novel. At times, indeed, there was something of an overload. I thought the book was awkwardly constructed as it moves back and forth from chapter to chapter between Piya's story and Kanai's story until they gradually interconnect. The narrative is frequently delayed by long stories which, while interesting in themselves, interfere with the flow of the action. At times I grew impatient and wanted the story to proceed.
In summary, what most impressed me in this book were first the dramatic pictures of raw and violent nature in the Sundarbans and second the nuanced discussion of issues that people face involving the priorities of love and work, as these issues continue to unfold and evolve in all parts of the world.
on May 7, 2005
Amitav Ghosh's new book, "The Hungry Tide," is an interesting book set in the swampy regions of Sunderbans,near the India-Bangaldesh border. The book makes for an interesting reading, and in the process you also learn about the rich marine life in this part of the world, where once river dolphins thrived in large numbers. But, over the years these marine mammals have rapidy dwindled, and become a rare species.
Ghosh has a keen eye for details, and when this is combined with his love for history and research, the final product can make for an absorbing read.
Ghosh weaves a fascinating story invloving the three primary characters in the book: Piyali Roy, Kanai Dutt and Fokir.
Piyali is a cetalogist, who is on a quest to study the habits of the rare river dolphins in the Sunderbans region. Of Indian hertiage, Piyali grew up in the US, and as part of her graduate studies has made an ardous trip to this remote region of India.
Fokir is the illiterate fisherman who knows this part of the river like the back of his hands, and assits Piyali in her quest to discover and study the animals. He knows exactly where you can find these rare river dolphins.
Kanai Dutt, is a Delhi-based entrepreneur, who happens to meet Piyali on her train journey to the Sunderbans. They cross paths when they meet once again at Kanai's aunt's place. Kanai is visiting his aunt to retrieve a package that his uncle had left for him in his will.
During the course of the story you discover how each of one these primary character's story is intertwined.
Although Ghosh has written 5 books, I must confess that I did not enjoy reading all of his books, and have had to abandon a couple of them half-way through. I enjoyed reading "In an antique land," and now this new book.
on February 2, 2006
If Shadow Lines enthralled you, Amitav Ghosh's latest masterpiece, the Hungry Tide, will sweep you off your feet, and into the precarious waters of the Sundarbans.In the typical Ghosh style, the narrative moves fluidly between past and present. You will be transported into the mindset of the superstitious yet brave folk, who have adapted themselves to the constant ebb and flow of the tide and are living in continuous fear of the Bengal tigers. The tide begins to turn with the advent of two seekers from the outside world - Piyali Roy, an Indian-American marine biologist in search of the Irrawaddy dolphins and Kanai Dutt, an urbane translator from New Delhi who's there to retrieve his deceased uncle Nirmal's journal. Their lives become intertwined particularly with Fokir, an illiterate but proud fisherman, who has the "rivers in his heart." As the narrative progresses, they are forced to respect nature in order to survive, and to communicate with people who differ not only in language but also in equations of existence. It is a story of love, revolution, brutal history and the place of man within the treacheries of nature. It seems to underscore Nirmal's observation that "nothing escapes the maw of the tides."
on March 21, 2007
I am one of those readers who has trouble finishing a novel if it doesn't grip me from the start - and keep me gripped till the end.
This is one of those books that I could not stop reading. It is a simple story - told masterfully. The flowing style involves two simultaneous narratives (what happens in the lives of the two main characters) - with each narrative being suspenseful in itself. You'll just have to read it to judge for yourself.
The author also seems to have done his research on the gangetic dolphin, the Sunderbans and other pieces that the story revolves around.
on June 29, 2015
A fascinating blend of, story, myth, culture, and humanity. I have recently fallen into the Sundarbans, through an intense interest in tigers. This is not a tiger book, but a look into the lives of people that are virtually hidden from the world. Enjoy.