Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Reviewed by Lucia.

Published: 2004

It's about: Set in the Sundarbans, a cluster of islands drifting on the reckless tides of the coast of India, the story is of the place's strange peace. It is unsettled by Piya, an Indian/ American woman researching a breed of river dolphin and who doesn't speak the local language, and Kanai, a sharp but arrogant translator from the mainland. On the island of Lusibari, Kanai's aunt Nilima has build a legacy in the first hospital to be erected on the vicious landscape, and spends a lifetime protecting it from the harsh thoughts of her political radical husband until his death. Finally, there is Fokir a local fisherman, who guides Piya through the labyrinth of waters. Together they constitute the history of the region's unyielding habitat, and the people who live through it.

I thought: The most wonderful thing about this novel are the descriptions of the tide country, particularly Lusibari and the water and riverside itself, but also the types of people who live there and how they make their life. The language that Ghosh uses is lovely in that for a book so crammed with details and descriptions, it's not difficult to get through or dull so that the images seem flat. For example, the depictions of the mud which seems to completely cover the islands and extends to the shores and bottom of the river. It appears in so many aspects of the story, because it makes up an important part of the landscape, yet it isn't just the author telling the reader what mud is. He knows we know. It's how this mud makes the place, how it swallows up your feet if you don't curl your toes into it, and in this way Ghosh describes the way people live in the Sundarbans, and how it is truly singular.

The style and language that Ghosh uses to develop the characters is also artful. They are each different and present a different idea and background to the story. The fact that there is often no resolution to the conflicts that these differences cause, gives the reader the idea that people simply live differently, and are required to do things in varying ways depending on their situation and the nature of where they live. Ghosh makes these differences and disagreements in opinion okay.

The only negative thing I would say about this novel is that the beginning is a little slow. I read the blurb and then was 100 pages in and wondering when everything was going to start. Although, other than that, this book is fascinating. The plot is brilliantly intriguing and makes you curious about what the reader is trying to say.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: I regret not reading this book in a shorter period of time, in order to make the most of the atmosphere and sense of place.

Warnings: None.

Favorite excerpts: 'Kanai, the dreamers have everyone to speak for them,' she said. 'But those who're patient, those who try to be strong, who try to build things - no one ever sees any poetry in that, do they?'

Soon the dawn fog was as distant a memory as the chill of the night. With the mud banks and the forests holding back the wind, no breeze could find its way down to the water. In the stillness, the river seemed to give birth to a second sun, so that these was almost as much heat radiating from the water's surface as from the cloudless sky. As the temperature peaked, subterranean currents of life rose seething to the surface of the nearby mud banks, with legions of crabs scuttling to salvage the rich haul of leaves and other debris left behind by the retreating tide.

What I'm reading next: Persuasion by Jane Austen