Saturday, March 11, 2006


The cover of THE HUNGRY TIDE reminds my spouse of LIFE OF PI. “Do you think they did it deliberately?”

I laughed at his acuity. “There are actual tigers in the book, though.”

Honestly, the two novels couldn’t be more different. I'm very much enjoying Amitav Ghosh’s THE HUNGRY TIDE, set in the Sundarbans, a group of islands off the eastern coast of India. Ghosh’s political novel is beautifully written. The complex narrative alternates the stories of Kanai, a translator from Delhi, with that of Piya, an American marine biologist of Indian descent who is studying dolphins. Kanai is on his way to a remote village to visit his aunt, the organizer of a women's union and a hospital. She wishes him to read the papers of his late uncle. At the railway station, Kanai spots an unusual young woman.

The novel opens: “Kanai spotted her the moment he stepped onto the crowded platform: he was deceived neither by her close-cropped black hair nor by her clothes, which were those of a teenage boy--loose cotton pants and an oversized ite shirt....

“Why would a foreigner, a young woman, be standing in a south Kolkata commuter station, waiting for the train to Canning? It was true, of course, that this line was the only rail connection to the Sundarbans. But so far as he knew it was never used by tourists...”

At the end of their casual meeting on the train, he invites Piya to visit him. And after she tussles with two thuggish men on a boat and is rescued by a poor fisherman, she is glad to have the name of his aunt’s village.

Ghosh gracefully interweaves an exposition of Indian history and politics with Kanai’s memories of his last visit to his aunt and uncle and Piya’s involvement with a fisherman and his son.

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