The Hungry Tide: Book Review

If we are to name the best contemporary English writers in India, this name is surely going to top the list. Amitav Ghosh is indeed one of the finest non-fiction novelists in India and his contribution to literature stands unparalleled. Born on July 1956 in Kolkata, India, Ghosh did his schooling from Doon School, bachelor’s degree from Delhi University and his doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford University. But instead of pursuing a career in social anthropology, he followed his passion for writing and his first novel, “The Circle of Reasons” published in 1986. Over the years as each of his novels came to exist, his extraordinary writing skills and storytelling capabilities came to the limelight. Some of his priceless contributions to the literary world are The Shadow Lines, In an Antique Land, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, Sea of Poppies and the latest one is River of Smoke which released earlier this year.

The Hungry Tide, his sixth novel was published in 2005 and was awarded the prestigious Crossword Book Prize. Hungry Tide is a heart-warming saga of human emotions, matchless love, discovery of the past and a continuous quest for survival. The story in set in Sunderbans, “the tide country”, an almost unfrequented archipelago of island in the eastern coast of India, in the heart of Bay of Bengal. It revolves mainly around the lives of a Delhi based businessman and translator, Kanai Dutt who visits island on the request of her aunt, Nilima, a young marine biologist of Indian parentage but stubbornly American, Piyali Roy and an illiterate local man Fokir, who knows the backwaters like the back of his hand. The story on one hand follows Piya’s expeditions through the waters of the treacherous river with Fokir and an eccentric bond that draws them towards each other. On the other hand Kanai is handed a notebook of his late uncle Nirmal, which beholds the vivid encounter of the refugees of Marichjhapi and their catastrophic struggle against all odds. Their ultimate voyage is what forms the climax of the book, as all dangers loom upon them in the form of tigers, crocodiles, floods and the ravaging storms.

The Hungry Tide is a novel of remarkable vitality, wisdom and morality. Based on true events and rigorous research the author takes the reader through a whirlwind of emotions. Author is capable of keeping the pages turning with the story shifting from the history of the tide country, to the scientific research, to the Morichjhapi Massacre and back to the present timeline. However, the book is not without its flaws. The scientific history drags for too long and so does Nirmal’s diary and overwhelms the rest of the story and so a slight editing on that part would have been justified.

Overall this book is an exotic experience about life and its trails and captures every human emotion from love and sympathy to rage and jealousy with right amount of sensitivity. And the characters Kanai, Piya and specially Fokir stay with you even after you have turned the last page.

Amrita Sarkar