Book Review – The Shadow Lines

Amitav Ghosh is a renowned author and novelist of books like The Calcutta Chromosome, The Hungry Tide, The Glass Palace, The Shadow Lines and many more. He is best known for his effort to recuperate and represent the silent voices of major historical events and project that side of an incident which never gets voiced. Amitav writes along a stream of consciousness which makes it easy for the reader to associate and attach himself with the story. Winner of many awards and prizes for his novels and short stories, Amitav Ghosh is indeed a celebrated author.

Ghosh’s second novel, The Shadow Lines is considered by many as his best work and it was also awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in the year 1989. It lies in the genre of what is known as a memory novel where the content of the entire novel is derived from the memory of characters. It is at some level a recollection of events and their various interpretations held by the characters.

Published in the year 1988, this memory novel beautifully knits together the personal lives of the narrator – Tridib, Thamma, Ila, Robi, Mayadebi, Nick, the Datta Chaudhari’s and the Snipes against the backdrop of important historical events of India, Bangladesh and England. The novel stresses upon the meaning of freedom in a modern world and questions the reader about the shadow lines that are drawn between people and nations and how these lines act as a barrier in maintaining peace and harmony. He goes on to question the idea of nationhood itself and elaborates upon the baptism of wars. By using techniques like the negation of the ‘other’ and the technique of defamiliarisation, Ghosh makes Shadow Lines an interesting read.

The image of journey is central to the story which is divided into two sections of ‘Going away’ and ‘coming home’. The novel captures some of the most troubled times of world history, be it the Indo-Chinese war in 1962, Calcutta Khulna riots in 1964 or the time when Hazrat Bal had disappeared from Kashmir in 1963. Ghosh constantly moves forward and backward creating a zig-zag like pattern contributing to the complex structure of the novel. The story is mystifying and would attract the reader to read it again. The novel beautifully showcases human relationships and also talks about the importance of borders, lines and nations.

The book shares a very strong and important message on how the borders demarcating the nations have begun to demarcate the people as well. It elaborates on the fact that these lines should hold no meaning and one should search for a land without borders, where there is no discrimination, no hatred and where there is only place for peace and harmony. Ghosh handles these delicate subjects with such beauty that the reader would be forced to admire the class of work. The words have such a lyrical feeling despite the fact that they all come from memory. This Novel is a personal favorite and I see no reason why anybody should not read it. Despite the complex structure and the intricacies of the book, this one is a must read! On a scale of 1 to 10, I would definitely give the beautiful book ‘The Shadow Lines’ an 8.5!

Ankita Rohatgi

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