Hungry Tide Paperback – May 3 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*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.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story switches between the present day, where Piya is seeking to understand an unusual daily migratory pattern, while navigating an unfamiliar physical and social environment, and the 70s, through a tale told in the notebook, of Bengali refugees settling and forcibly removed from the Morichjhanpi Island. That tale is a comparatively minor part of the story, but plays a key role in describing several characters’ backstory, and educating the reader on a forgotten piece of history.
As an early work of Ghosh, you can see that he is honing what has become his style – multiple, intertwined, characters and stories and a lot of forgotten history – but it is nowhere near as polished as his more recent work.
(search for What is Hassan Reading, to find more reviews).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was drawn to "The Hungry Tide" by its setting - the action takes place in the Sundarbans, the archipelago in the Bengal Bay, at the mouth of the Ganges, partially belonging to India and partially to Bangladesh, where the fresh river water mixes with the saltwater from the ocean. The tides make the Sundarbans a difficult place to live for humans, but, at the same time, a unique habitat for fauna and flora. The mangrove swamps are dominant, and they provide the shelter for many species of animals, which are specific to the region or very rare in other areas. The example is the Royal Bengal Tiger, a man-eater, featuring in "The Hungry Tide" together with several species of dolphins and deadly crocodiles.
The novel starts with the meeting of two main characters, Piyali (Piya), an Indian-American field biologist specialized in dolphins, and Kanai, a sophisticated interpreter and businessman, on the train to Canning. Piya has a plan to collect data on the life of the rare river dolphins, which are the subject of her research. Kanai was summoned by his aunt, Nilima, to the island of Lusibari (he spent there only one summer as a schoolboy), where she runs a charity, to get the package left to him in the will of his late uncle, Nirmal, a leftist schoolteacher with literary ambitions. Kanai is interested in Piya, and when they part in Canning, he invites her to Lusibari.
From this point, the narration is separated into alternating chapters devoted to the doings of Piya and Kanai. Piya gets her travel permit and goes by motorboat to see the dolphins with the national forest guard and a thug of a boat owner. The accident, in which she nearly drowns, leaves her on the small fishing rowboat belonging to Fokir, a poor fisherman from Lusibari. Since then, Piya's fate is connected with Fokir's. After seeing some dolphins, they go to Lusibari and organize a bigger expedition, in which Kanai participates as a translator. The tension between the three becomes difficult to bear...
The novel is full of extraordinary, powerful characters. Each protagonist has very distinct characteristics and all of them stand out of the crowd. They are all strongly tied to the Sundarbans, but each of them understands the life in the islands differently: Fokir is rooted in the old traditions; his wife, Moyna, who trains to be a nurse, wants to have a better life and help the local people; Nilima runs a charity - a hospital, a guest house and educational services; Piya and Kanai become infected with the Sundarbans and want to go back...
I liked the construction of the novel, which, in addition to alternating chapters about Piya and Kanai, which finally merge, has many other threads, most important of which is Nirmal's notebook, which Kanai is reading, and which reports the events leading to Nirmal's death. These events are, of course, the happenings essential in the newest history of the Sundarbans. Nirmal, who is an admirer of Rilke, quotes Rilke's poems all the time (sometimes, to me , a little too freely, and I cannot see the connection between his thoughts and Rilke's lines, but - licentia poetica...).
There is also an evocation of the local myth of the goddess Bon Bibi, which is beautifully woven into the story.
I could compare "The Hungry Tide" to James Michener's novels, it is in the same way well researched (Ghosh is an anthropologist so his interest and knowledge of the natural sciences are profound) and concentrates on the specific region. Unlike Michener though, Ghosh tells one actual story and his book is a real novel, not an attempt to span the centuries of history, so it is way less superficial and concentrated on the characters.
Sundarbans, a vast forest that insulates the inland of lower Bengal in India from the ocean, is slowly being denuded of its bio-diversity; the ecological balance is seriously being threatened. And all these are because the life of the ordinary, extremely poor people living there do not count for anything to the political establishments. As the scientist Mr. Piddington warned, if the forest is itself endangered that is certainly to diminish the possibility of Calcutta being protected any more against the devastating oceanic storms of Bay of Bengal. Interestingly that threat of a sad destiny where the guilty will not be spared destruction is hinted at very clearly through a metaphorical local tale of Bon-bibi and Dakshin Rai among the dwellers of Sundarbans. The educated city people, the enlightened, unfortunately live in a translated world of their own and they failed to interpret the meaning of science, progress, civilization to the under-privileged, neither have the plight of these hapless people been earnestly conveyed to the outer world which could extend an effective helping hand. Ghosh attempts to bring back the memories of S'Daniel Hamilton to stress upon the importance of true enlightenment and indomitable human spirit keeping aside unnecessary categorizations of revolutionary, bourgeois, secular, pagan and so on. The author exhibits a rare sincerity in describing the life of the underprivileged but struggling people of Sundarbans with true respect. A hint of a development of romance between an illiterate boatman Fakir and the US born cetologist Piyali Roy who studies marine mammals, has been a remarkable technique to steer the narrative with cohesion.
And about the dolphins - appreciation of the book and its subsequent popularity will create innumerable experts and well-wishers all over the world -no doubt about that!
Kanai seems to be more urban and more worldly character.
It indeed looks Mr. Ghosh has made quite a deep study of Oracella dolphins himself. He has also been able to infuse some suspense at the end of the book. The description of the typhoon is wonderful. Also the description of peoples' life in Sundaban - the perils they face everyday, makes a chilling reading.
I enjoyed the Legend of Bob bibi and Dokhin Rai. Mr. Ghosh must have been very sympathetic to settlers on Moritjapi. But I felt the story could have been more powerful if he could have cut down the descrition of refugees' fight there.
Finally, I wondered what this book was about. Is it about a love triangle? Is it a treatise on Oracella dolphins? Is it based on the theme of man versus nature? I couldn't figure out and frankly, I don't care. Because Mr. Ghosh is master of the words. He has handled all the three aspects so well that they caught my interest throughout the novel. He is a champion when it comes to use words to paint emotions. Even the writing on Oracella dolphins was interesting to me.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It would be good read, especially on rainly holidays.
But while there is much to be savored in this novel, it flounders a bit in describing straightforward adult interactions--people explain themselves (in their thoughts and out loud) rather woodenly.
Still, it kept me reading, and I was glad to learn about a part of the world I'd barely even heard of. But I've enjoyed other Ghosh books more.