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Starred Review. One doesn't so much read Ghosh's masterful fifth novel as inhabit his characters and the alluring if treacherous Sundarban archipelago, "the ragged fringe of [India's] sari," where it is set. The author's nuanced descriptions of the moods and microenvironments of the islands serve as a lush backdrop for an intricate narrative that moves fluidly between past and present. Hoping to make her mark in the cetological world, Piyali Roy, an Indian-American marine biologist, travels across the Sundarbans in search of the once plentiful Irrawaddy dolphin. Piyali befriends both an illiterate fisherman, Fokir, who leads her to a dolphin-rich river enclave, and a successful interpreter, Kanai Dutt, who has arrived in the region from New Delhi to retrieve his deceased uncle Nirmal's journal. Through Nirmal, a Rilke-quoting former school headmaster and erstwhile revolutionary, Ghosh recounts the history of the islands with an unsentimental melancholy. Nirmal's account of the true story of the 1979 siege of Morichjhapi, in which destitute squatters were brutally evicted by the Indian government in order to preserve a wildlife sanctuary, poignantly displays the author's gift for traversing the fiction/nonfiction boundary. Ghosh (The Glass Palace, etc.), however, is uninterested in setting up simple good/evil binaries and instead weds the issues of love, language and land to the unfolding relationships among Piyali, Fokir and Kanai. The philosophical and moral implications of their actions remain simmering just below the surface. The climactic ending, in which a cyclone threatens the inhabitants of the Sundarbans, underscores Nirmal's observation that "nothing escapes the maw of the tides."
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*Starred Review* Man-eating tigers, river dolphins, crocodiles, mangrove forests, lunar rainbows, and the great cosmic metronome of the sweeping tides that inundate the Sundarbans, a vast archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, these are the marvels Ghosh orchestrates in this entrancing tale about the conflict between wildness and civilization, thus following his internationally acclaimed historical saga, The Glass Palace (2001), with another triumph of gorgeous writing, intelligent romance, and keen philosophical inquiries. His characters are just as alluring as the setting, and the chemistry among them is just as complex and powerful as the natural forces they confront. Piya Roy, a self-possessed cetologist born in India but raised in America, is searching for an increasingly rare river dolphin, and she finds the ideal assistant in fisherman Fokir. Kanai, an urbane translator from Kolkata, is visiting his formidable aunt, who gives him his late uncle's harrowing account of a violent confrontation between government officials and refugees who settled in a wildlife preserve. Through his characters' very different mind-sets, Ghosh posits urgent questions about humankind's place in nature in an atmospheric and suspenseful drama of love and survival that has particular resonance in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.