The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

“Everyone lives in a story…stories are all there are to live in, it’s just a question of which one you chose. “

Amitav Ghosh chooses to tell a story that pervades through the seams of reality and fiction, of time and space, of memories and beliefs. The Shadow Lines is Ghosh’s second novel, who has overtime secured his place as one of the India’s most celebrated authors in English. Ghosh’s work is known to be imbued with intricate details of the given time and situation, which he writes about and his words are filled with a wealth of meaning. Having penned several novels, Ghosh’s seen to reinvent himself with his every work but The Shadow Lines undoubtedly remains one his best.

The Shadow Lines is a story told by a nameless narrator in recollection. It’s a non linear tale told as if putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in the memory of the narrator. This style of writing is both unique and captivating; unfolding ideas together as time and space coalesce and help the narrator understand his past better. Revolving around the theme of nationalism in an increasingly globalized world, Ghosh questions the real meaning of political freedom and the borders which virtually seem to both establish and separate. The novel traverses through almost seventy years through the memories of people, which the narrator recollects and narrates, giving their viewpoint along with his own. Though the novel is based largely in Kolkata, Dhaka and London, it seems to echo the sentiments of whole South-east Asia, with lucid overtones of Independence and the pangs of Partition.

It is a story of a middle class Indian family based in Calcutta. The boy narrator presents the views of the members of his immediate and extended family, thus, giving each a well defined character. However, Tha’mma, narrator’s grandmother is the most realised character in the novel, giving a distinct idea of the idealism and the enthusiasm with which the people worked towards nation building just after independence. It is chiefly through her character that Ghosh delivers the most powerful message of the novel; the vainness of creating nation states, the absurdity of drawing lines which arbitrarily divide people when their memories remain undivided. All the characters are well rounded. In Tridib, the narrator’s uncle, Ghosh draws one of the most unique characters of our times. Narrator’s fascination with him is understandable as Tridib travels the world through his imagination. Ghosh subtly tries to undo the myth that boundaries restrict as there are no barriers in imagination. Though Ghosh is a little mean to narrator’s cousin and childhood love, Ila, but her thus portrayal is crucial to showcase the confusions which the people who live away from their native place, harbour and the prejudices they face. Ghosh gives adequate space to the British Price family and unlike most authors, he doesn’t stereotype them.