Book Review: The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
by Rajeev Vaishnav
The Hungry Tide (2005) is the sixth literary undertaking by the man who possesses an almost demigod reputation in the cosmos of Indian Fiction, Mr. Amitav Ghosh. This is the second book out of his pantheon that I’ve read followed by Calcutta Chromosome of which I have already posted a review here: http://urbansanyaasi.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/the-calcutta-chromosome-by-amitav-ghosh/.
The Hungry Tide is a story that presents the one part of India probably more ignored, mysterious and unaccounted for in public psyche id est SunderBans. The eponymous tide, belonging to this vast expanse of marshes and mangroves is the driving factor behind the narrative.
As noticed in The Calcutta Chromosome, Mr. Ghosh is not simply a maestro of a narrative, but also likes to take his readers for a ride with multiple timelines both looping into each other seamlessly, being the cause of certain events while providing closure to other. For once, and after a long time, I have read a book where the ending is rather well-timed and not a hasty wrap up done by the author to limit his book’s page count in a more favorable category.
The Story is a character driven tale, an amalgam of Kanai, the sauve, man about town who is returning to the Tide Country after a long time at request of Mashima, the matriarchal figure in his life, as well as in the Tide Country and thus in the Story. Along the way Kanai meets feisty Piyali, a driven marine biologist tracking and tracing the Gangetic Dolphin, the elusive resident of the rivers of Sunderban. Bringing depth behind Kanai’s narrative is his uncle, the husband of Mashima, Nirmal, a soft-tempered but idealistic and fierce seeker of an elusive revolution to justify his beliefs in the ideologies that have shaped him and brought him and Mashima (Nilima) to the Tide Country.
Piyali, on her quest, meets Fokir through a mishap and is surprised at the level of communication and understanding with this simple man belonging to the marshes and herself, an Indian born but obstinately American scientist who has literally no knowledge of the culture/language of her homeland. This also pits Piyali and Fokir cleverly against the dynamic Kanai and Piyali share, as Kanai, a professional translator and now a business person running a company that provides the services of translation to esteemed entities, has found his permanent passion in the nuances of languages.
The Narrative is meandering, long, slow, often covering over the previous happenings until the right time, much like the topography it is set in. Not particularly predictable, it still is gradual enough to allow reader to be patient and trust the author to reveal the clever undercurrents running through the story eventually.
The Writing utilizes various devices, including portraying the pragmatism and superstition, merged together in an erratic but effective mix of lifestyle of the villagers of the Tide Country. My favorite aspect of the book was the very writing, which was a cerebral pace much akin to the very boats that traverse the rivers and delta of the Tide country, lolling and rolling, pacing up and down depending on the currents of the story itself, much dependent, like a boat is on the river it is crossing.
Mr. Ghosh proves to be both a clever yet sensitive writer, not intent on forcing down a story with crammy fast pace events merely begging for the reader’s attention. Rather, he makes a friend out of the reader with requests and command of patience, perseverance and brilliant pacing of the story itself.
All in all, Mr. Amitav Ghosh and The Hungry Tide are a much satisfying read that leaves a lovely aftertaste of knowing that one has truly cherished reading a good novel.