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The Shadow Lines

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  3,837 ratings  ·  215 reviews
Opening in Calcutta in the 1960s, Amitav Ghosh's radiant second novel follows two families—one English, one Bengali—as their lives intertwine in tragic and comic ways. The narrator, Indian born and English educated, traces events back and forth in time, from the outbreak of World War II to the late twentieth century, through years of Bengali partition and violence, observi ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published May 3rd 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 1988)
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Best South Asian Fiction
40th out of 460 books — 1,392 voters
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Riku Sayuj

The return of this asymmetrical Saturday was one of those little events, internal, local, almost civic, which, in peaceful lives and closed societies, create a sort of national bond and become the favorite theme of conversations, jokes, stories wantonly exaggerated: it would have been the ready-made nucleus for a cycle of legends, if one of us had had an epic turn of mind.

~ Marcel Proust

The Shadow Lines of History (& Geography)

It is said that childhood is the font of all stories. No stor
Sam Law
This was an amazing book that left me blown away by the beautiful vivid storytelling, the insightful analytical commentary and the thought provoking message of the book.

The book collapses time and space, placing events from different times and places next to each other. The narrator goes from his experience as a little boy in India to London both through the stories of his uncle and his own experience there as a student. From this narrative structure emerges a powerful message.

For Ghosh, the wo
Regina Lindsey
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh
4 Stars

On its surface, Shady Lines is about two families – one English and one Bengali – whose lives have been intertwined for three generations. The unnamed narrator, Indian born and English educated, has grown up with the stories of his uncle, Tridib. It is through these seemingly unrelated stories that the larger picture slowly unfold until, eventually, you realize that they are all culminating in a single, tragic event that impacts both families.

Ultimately, th
This book was recommended to me by a friend who had simply loved it. She claimed the book to be one that was meant to be read several times, with each reading rendering a deeper understanding and probably a different interpretation. I was naturally curious and wanted to see what she meant by that statement. With that in mind, I promised to read it with her and discuss it. Of course, I was really lazy and never got around to reading it, until today.

As I sit to review this book, the first thought
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about this. The description and some of the reviews say this is, on the surface, a story of two families - one Indian, one English. I found it only the story of the Indian family who happened to know the white English family and who occasionally spent time with one or other of them. By that I mean that the Indian family sometimes interacted just with themselves, but the white family members interacted only with the Indian family members, rather tha ...more
Last night I was watching an episode of Lost, and as usual with this TV series, I was confused about what was going on. Is this the past? the future? reality or a flashback? And all of a sudden I realized that I have the same muddled confusion over this book. The story is about a Bengali boy and follows his life from a child in Calcutta, through a college education in England and returning home to India. It is definitely set in a turbulent time period, from post World War II, through the India/P ...more
Aswathi Raviendran

There are some books that are difficult to review. Their pages open up to spill a mixed bag of emotions and self-contained little worlds onto your lap. As the pages whirl by, boundaries blur. And the worlds, with their bags of emotions, seep into your veins, absorbed into the sponge of your sub-conscious.
That's when you realize the book is now a part of you - that there was something so compatible between your mind, your feelings and the book that there are no separate entities now.
And you bec

I really wanted to like this book. There are some great observations from a child's point of view. There are also some real sentiments from the elderly grandmother teacher. But...
I easily put this book down to watch tv, talk to my cat, tweeze my eye brows or anything else. The narrator /main character tells his story in a haphazard fashion, not stream of consciousness. Either I couldn't follow him or I didn't care enough to try.
I thought it would be nice to read about a middle class Indian for
This is a book about people and places and the connections between them. For me, the most poignant parts of the book are the times when the narrator contemplates the meaning of maps and borders, or the difficulty of rendering meaning to violence with language. There are love stories in the book, and sex, and politics. A moving read, if not a happy one.

This is a book that you will want to read in one sitting. I didn't, but I wish that I had. The book follows the memories of the narrator, and like
The Shadow Lines is one of Ghosh's earlier books, which speaks of the early brilliance of this author. At the start, the reader is drawn into what appears to be a family history, but the history quickly becomes disjointed and erratic, the time of telling jumping decades ahead, turning the corner into a new story, spinning back, a chapter ending before it has begun! But if you persist, you become aware of a rhythm, a poetic telling of a tale from the past, the present and the future (you are some ...more
Jul 30, 2008 Rose rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Students of South Asian history, people who like to read about travel
Recommended to Rose by: college prof.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Grace Tjan
Amitav Ghosh's second novel is as beautifully written as his other novels, but the narrative, especially in the first part, somehow lacks cohesiveness. It reads more like the disjointed memoir of a precocious Calcutta schoolboy than a finished novel, endlessly flipping between different eras, sometimes disorientingly so. The grandmother is the most realized character in the novel, the only character who has seen it all, and whose presence holds together the different narratives. The book ends wi ...more
What should I say, The Shadow lines is a healthy sort of a book, like it has a healthy theme, good English, good sentences, good flow of story, mixing & merging of events, perfectly decent characters happily meeting & parting with each other and their intricate relationships smoothly knit. It gives you a first party narration but with a third party perspective of a neutral observer who lets the events unfold being part of them but not influencing them. The author goes deep enough in the ...more
Ellen Pierson
this book wasn't bad, it was just that to me it read more like a draft than a finished novel. amitav ghosh is clearly a gifted writer and the book read beautifully at times, but his narrative voice and the presentation of themes could have been stronger. the expanse of time and distance within the brief novel would have been manageable if it had been handled a little bit more adeptly, but often the year and location of the action would change rather abruptly leaving you confused for a few pages ...more
The Shadow Line is the second novel by Indian author, Amitav Ghosh. It is set in Calcutta, London and Dhaka, and tells the story of a Bengali and an English family and their involvement over some eighty years. Told as seen through the eyes of the narrator, whose name we never learn (perhaps this says something of his place in the story: to observe), the story opens in 1960 when he is just eight years old, and traces events that impacted on the family from the start of World War II to the late 19 ...more
Katie Grainger
I had really mixed feelings about The Shadow Lines. On the one hand it is a brilliantly written novel, which interweaves a number of stories and characters effortlessly. On the other hand I found the latter half of the novel really hard finish. I think the reason I found the second half of the novel so difficult was that for the first half I had been anticipating that something big was round the corner and was bound to happen and any minute and it never did. As I continued the realisation hit me ...more
Ritabrata Chatterjee
In my opinion the story didn't interest me, the storytelling did. The style was quite experimental to move back and forth in space and time. But otherwise the base story was in a way predictable and neither interesting nor enlightening.
Tnahsin Garg
Meh. It was okayish, I guess?

I went over this book in the last few days when I was busy writing my PhD thesis and probably that is why I couldn't focus on it. Several times, my attention drifted to matters more pressing than that of the confused narrator and his babble. There's something about Bangladesh, partition, etc - matters of great political importance for the educated I presume. But to my ignorant self, all the historical background of 1960's against which this novel is set was not arou
reading this book, due to my fascination of Ghosh's other novels The Glass Palace and The Calcutta Chromosome, I found it disappointing. Unfortunately, I thought that the characters were lacking in substance and they didn't intrigue me as much as I had hoped for.

The narrator is an Indian born boy, who traces back past events through his cousin Tridib's experiences and stories. The family relationships in the narrator's surroundings are divided into a triangular shape; His own Indian family, an
Kshitij Kumar
277 pages of utter brilliance. The Shadow Lines is a book that weaves together our fictitious world of things outwards with the the real world that lies inwards.
At one level it is an excellent and path-breaking critique of the concept of Nation-State and Freedom, and at another it is a novel that will amaze you with its chilling, poignant and intriguing story and an even better telling.
It successfully shows you how the world is nothing but a map with imaginary and moreover vain lines, and that t
Mireille Rosello

It would not be enough to say we were afraid: we were stupefied with fear.
That particular fear has a texture you can neither forget nor describe. It is like the fear of the victims of an earthquake, of people who have lost faith in the stillness of the earth. And yet it is not the same. It is without analogy, for it is not comparable to the fear of nature, which is the most universal of human fears, nor to the fear of the violence of the state, which is the commonest of modern fears. It is a fea
Looking through the various reviews, this is a book you either take to or dislike. Some of the reviewers who were less than enthusiastic were literary students who had to read it as part of their course (? in post-colonial literature).

I think it is an excellent, beautifully written, account of an extended family based in Calcutta, with cultural roots in India and England. Told through the eyes of the eleven year old protagonist, the narrative shifts seamlessly back and forth between the years 19
I didn't really get this book. Set on different time levels, in Calcutta and London, it speaks of two families, one Indian and one English. The narrator, a boy belonging to the Indian family, tells the readers about his childhood in Calcutta, his grandmother and her family, Partition, his cousin Ila, with whom he is secretly in love, his university days in London and so on. Some descriptions were quite good, but on the whole I couldn't really grasp any focus or meaning in this novel. And I could ...more
Another book recommended by an Indian friend. He thinks Ghosh is one of the best Indian writers ever. This was my first Ghosh.

It's about a Bengali extended family in Calcutta (a good dozen characters with many more on the fringes), centering on the life story of one man who loses a cousin to sudden and mysterious ethnic violence. The whole thing is tied together by the fact that this cousin is himself a mysterious, fascinating, erudite, and compassionate person, who always has a story or an insi
Despite the good recommendations from a friend, the book couldn't keep my interest and I felt like I was slogging through it and not enjoying it. It took me 25 pages just to figure out that the protagonist was a boy, not a girl as I'd originally thought. I got more distracted by the excellent grammar and punctuation than the content. For example:

"It startles me now to discover how readily the name comes off my pen as 'Mayadebi' for I have nover spoken of her thus; not aloud, at any rate: as my g
At first I wasn't sure if I would like this book... But, once I started it, I couldn't stop. Several people who reviewed the book complained that it seemed convoluted and moved back and forth between time periods and places... but I feel a lot of that was due to the fact that much of the book is from the memory of a young boy, and it's written as what a young boy would remember... I like it when an author trusts my intelligence enough to give me clues about what is happening behind closed doors, ...more
Amitav Ghosh's attempt to bring together one's personal sense of identity with the public isn't entirely successful and there's a vagueness, a certain lack of cohesiveness in the narrative that leaves one unsatisfied. The first 40 pages or so, where Amitav describes his modest household in Calcutta where his grandmom rules with an iron hand are beautifully described and there's a certain nestling charm to these portions. These are parts that are truly top notch but somehow the story just slips f ...more
Two famillies lives revolve around each other though they're from different parts of the world. The story travels backwards and forwards in time from the end of WWII to the 1960's and further. The story also takes us from Calcutta to London and Dhaka. The cast is large with grandmother, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and the narrator as a young man looks back at the past instances of violence to solve a family mystery.
A short book that's over before you know it and left me hoping there was
Nithesh Satish
Amitav Ghosh portrays a typical Indian family, its idiosyncrasies, fears and quirks. His characters as so full of rebellious, emotional and turn nostalgic when they look back in time and recall the good times and the tragedies. The book shuttles back and forth in time forcing the reader to stay alert and hooked while reading the book. The depth of the narration and the plot impressed me.

"I wonder what circumstances could be that would prompt a man to tell a journalist exactly how much money he
Amitav Ghosh is a marvellously good writer, and this has been long established, but it's only that I'm discovering it. There is always a sense of joyful celebration when I discover writing that captures a slice of my reality. It's odd how many of the novels are written as encounters with the western world/white people. It is almost as if it is this binary that gives meaning to our lives. I've been brought up on English fiction written by people in the west. I never listened to local art forms, o ...more
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Amitav Ghosh is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. His most recent novel, Sea of Poppies, is the first volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexan
More about Amitav Ghosh...
The Glass Palace Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy #1) The Hungry Tide River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy #2) The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

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“[T]hat state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings --- the idea of justice. It is only because love is so profoundly the enemy of justice that our minds, shrinking in horor from its true nature, try to tame it by uniting it with its opposite [...] in the hope that if we apply all the metaphors of normality, that if we heap them high enough, we shall, in the end, be able to approximate that state metaphorically.” 27 likes
“There is something strikingly different about the quality of photographs of that time. It has nothing to do with age or colour, or the feel of paper. . . . In modern family photographs the camera pretends to circulate like a friend, clicking its shutters at those moments when its subjects have disarranged themselves to present to it those postures which they would like to think of as informal. But in pictures of that time, the camera is still a public and alien eye, faced with which people feel bound either to challenge the intrusion by striking postures of defiant hilarity, or else to compose their faces, and straighten their shoulders, not always formally, but usually with just that hint of stiffness which suggests a public face.” 21 likes
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