Victoria's Reviews > The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
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Jun 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: zunyi-library
Read from March 14 to May 15, 2011

This book took me a long time to read mainly because the atmosphere Ghosh creates through his rich descriptions is so very powerful and poetic. You want to absorb every word, phrase, or description... you want to understand every detail. Ghosh has a remarkable power with language.

The plot starts out simple enough with the chance encounter between two English speakers in an off-the-beaten-path destination in India. Yet it becomes increasingly elaborate and complicated as the main protagonist, Piya, an American cetologist of Indian heritage, meets the rugged Fokir and then arrives in Lusibari. The book's complex stories intertwine like the roots of the mangrove trees that pervade the Sundarban river forest.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn more about how to masterfully create setting and place. From the onset, I felt like I was transported to the tide country. I found myself researching different places and historical figures as soon as I came across a new term I did not know. From the legend of Bon Bibi to the cetacean population in the Ganges and Meghna rivers, I was so interested in this unknown corner of the world.

Ghosh also does an incredible job describing the plants and animals that inhabit the region and further connecting these images to the German poet Rilke and local myths alike. At the end of the one passage, an Irawaddy dolphin floats to the top of the water near Nirmal's boat. Relaying the experience in his journal, Nirmal uses an an excerpt from a Rilke poem to buttress his impression: "some mute animal / raising its calm eyes and seeing through us / and through us.  This is destiny..."

Additionally, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about India and Asian issues alike. The book touches on a lot of social topics that plague India and many parts of the developing world in general. One of the more interesting of these is the pressing conflict between human poverty and environmental insecurity caused by global warming and the world's ever-increasing population. As police forces are raiding and patrolling the island of Morichjhapi where refugees have sought sanctuary, Kusum says the following to Nirmal and Horen:
" 'Saar,' she said wiping her face, 'the worst part was not the hunger or the thirst. It was to sit here, helpless, and listen to the policeman making their announcements, hearing them say that our lives, our existence, were worth less than dirt or dust.' 'This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its animals, it is a part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world.' Everyday, sitting here, with hunger gnawing at our bellies, we would listen to these words, over and over again. Who are these people, I wondered, who love animals so much they are willing to kiss us for them? Do they know what is being done in their names? Where do they live, these people? Do they have children, do they have mothers, fathers? As I thought of these things, it seemed to me that this whole world has become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil. No one could think this is a crime unless they have forgotten that this is how humans have always lived- by fishing, by clearing the land, and by planting the soil."

Living in a very poor area of China, I have experienced this issue from a new vantage point. Organizations and governments are quick to blame farmers and people living in rural areas (akin to the characters in this book) for destroying natural habitats and the local ecology with traditional practices e.g. slash and burn farming, over-hunting, etc. These people and their practices are deemed uneducated and backward. It's easy to criticize these people when you aren't living in extreme destitution and/or are not aware of the real causes to the major environmental problems that our planet faces. Unfortunately, loss of species and ecological habitats are not consequences of these people's lifestyles, but rather the damages wrecked by generations of people all over the (insert: western) world. I find it to be an opportune moment to insert yet again another Rilke quote used in the book to further accentuate the ideas discussed here: "Some simple thing shaped for generation after generation / until it lives in our hands and in our eyes, and it's ours." Additionally, those resources that are exploited in the developing world are not being consumed by the people extracting them; they are exploited to meet the ever-increasing demand of rich consumers hundreds, thousands, sometimes millions, of miles away.

Ghosh not only enables the reader to truly reflect on the environmental catastrophes of the 21st century, but also digs down to the real pain of suffering. As I contemplate the words and sorrows of Kusum and others who suffer the same fate as her, I am reminded by a small story retold by Paulo Coelho in one of his recent books about a Japanese man who died from cardiac arrest in his home in 1984 only to be found 20 years later. For 20 years, his body rotted and his existence vanished from the world without anyone ever taking notice. Coelho remarks, "I can only conclude that worse than hunger or thirst, worse than being unemployed, unhappy in love or defeated and in despair, far worse than any of these things, is feeling that no one, absolutely no one, cares about us."

At the end of the day, we are all human beings who experience love, happiness, joy, suffering, and death. Live and let live.

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Reading Progress

03/27/2011 page 110
05/08/2011 page 240
68.0% "This is a good book, but DAMN very complex and specific... I can't believe I still have not finished!"
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Aditya Kelekar Victoria: True, the descriptions are so vivid. And, yes, the native dwellers-wildlife-forest guards conflict, that serves as the backdrop, is cleverly brought out through the experiences of the main characters. Piya could have ignored those conflicts and just carried on with her work, but her conscience doesn't permit that. It's nice to read your reflections on how the real problems of the peoples of such lands are often not understood.

I think the hallmark of Ghosh's stories is the way he takes characters and hurls them in situations they had never been before, revealing their true character. Like when Fokir finds a young lady drowning. Also in his stories, and often in sharp focus, is the change in a character's attitude in different circumstances.

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