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The Shadow Lines

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  3,385 ratings  ·  188 reviews
A wide-eyed boy growing up in suburban Calcutta in the 1960s experiences the world through the eyes of others – an intoxicating older cousin, a grandmother who weaves stories from the past and a family in London whose lives are intertwined with his. When a seemingly random act of violence threatens his vision of the world, he begins piecing together events for himself, and ...more
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published (first published 1988)
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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 story
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
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
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
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
Jul 30, 2008 Rose rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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

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
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.
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
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
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
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
This is a hard novel to review, as an important revelation occurs at the very end, which changes everything that came before; I think that it's probably a book that needs to be read at least twice if you want to understand the author's goal. For at least two thirds of the book, it seemed like one of those literary fiction novels were nothing much happens and there's no obvious point: our narrator is a moody, introspective boy who ruminates on his childhood and his tangled relationships with vari ...more
Sue Wright
This is a shorter book from ghosh's back catelogue. It feels autobiographical. The unnamed protagonist watches his own life and the lives of others unfold in this Indian and London family saga. Influenced by his erudite and much cooler, wealthier cousins, Ila and Tridib, the main character demystifies the world piece by piece as he travels with his cousins to London. The story is told solely through his eyes, but effortlessly shifts between different time periods. What he sees as his cousins' pe ...more
Piyush Jain
The best book I've ever read. The views on nationality are so clearly explicated. What he meant was the division of nations should be done on the division of notions and culture and lifestyle, not based on the interests and understanding of just a few political bindings. When a few days ago, the people who loved each other and fought against the common foe of colonialism and imperialism in the form o British forces, just because some handful of leaders drew lines, those very people started killi ...more
The Shadow Lines is one of those narratives that will force you to think about the kind of world you live in. And mind you, it may not be a very pleasant process. For me, this book is about how borders created in our minds are so much more concrete than geographical borders. What separates us is not distance, but ignorance and pain. Now this alone might make one apprehensive of having picked a book loaded with heavy philosophy. But that's where the beauty of this novel comes in. The autobiograp ...more
God, what a ridiculous book. I NEVER leave a book unfinished, but I have no desire whatsoever to keep going with this. I’m 100 pages in and it’s only 238, but even that is only because I was on a plane and had no other option.

There is no “story” whatsoever. The narrative jumps from random scene to random scene as our unnamed narrator apparently tries to reflect on his growing up as an Indian living in the age of Partition and WWII, visiting relatives in London, dealing with the British/Indian d
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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.” 23 likes
“I know nothing of this silence except that it lies outside the reach of my intelligence, beyond words - that is why this silence must win, must inevitably defeat me, because it is not a presence at all.” 16 likes
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