Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #15: The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

When you fall in love with an author, it’s a great feeling knowing that there is a whole back catalogue waiting for you. The Hungry Tide was to be My Big Summer Read, but it’s a lot shorter than the Ibis books, and I got a lot more reading done than just this one…

The setting of the novel alone is a thing of beauty. The story is told against the backdrop of the Sundarbans (Google it! With pictures!), an archipelago of islands half submerged by the waters of the Bay of Bengal. Ghosh’s descriptions of the nature of those islands are beautiful, and even when you realise that the action takes place in the present, it still feels mysterious and as far removed from modern life as possible. Here, two strangers meet. Kanai Dutt is travelling to Lusibari from Delhi in order to help his aunt sort out some paperwork of his long-deceased uncle. He has been to the Sundarbans before and knows what to expect, but still struggles with the contrast of his middle-class existence in the capital and the hardships his aunt and her village suffer. He is immediately atteacted to his fellow traveller Piya Roy, who is of Indian descent, but grew up in the U.S. She has come to study the local variety of river dolphin, and although she does not speak Bengali, she is determined to get her observations under way. She promises an eager Kanai to visit him in Lusibari, and finds a local fisherman, Fokir, to take her. Although they can barely communicate, Piya is drawn to Fokir, who seems the impersonation of the uneducated, hard-working, yet happy villager. But things are not as simple as Piya or Kanai expect, and the Sundarbans are a place where nature takes terrifying forms…

While I enjoyed Amitav Ghosh’s writing and loved the setting of the novel, the story left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a pretty straightforward almost-love story that ends in a predictable tragedy, and I would have expected more of Ghosh. On the other hand he again crammed a ton of information in a relatively short book. Each subject is fascinating in itself, be it the story of the Gangetic river dolphin, local folklore or recent history of the Sundarbans. But taken together, the book seemed too short for such a wealth of information. I had the feeling that in order to make space for facts, Ghosh neglected his characters a bit. Both Kanai and Piya in parts are mere stock characters – the scientist with very little experience in matters of the heart, the mundane heartbreaker who is a bit too full of himself. Fokir was the most interesting character of the lot but remained, literally, silent for the most part.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book. But it felt a bit like Ghosh was aiming higher and ran out of energy, or time. His more recent novels achieve their goals. This one seems to me like an exercise, the preparation for bigger things to come.

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