The Hungry Tide is a very contemporary story of adventure and unlikely love, identity, and history, set in one of the most fascinating regions on the earth. Off the easternmost coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal, lies the immense labyrinth of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans. For settlers here, life is extremely precarious. Attacks by deadly tigers are common. Unrest and eviction are constant threats. Without warning, at any time, tidal floods rise and surge over the land, leaving devastation in their wake.
In this place of vengeful beauty, the lives of three people from different worlds collide. Piya Roy is a young marine biologist, of Indian descent but stubbornly American, in search of a rare, endangered river dolphin. Her journey begins with a disaster, when she is thrown from a boat into crocodile-infested waters. Rescue comes in the form of a young, illiterate fisherman, Fokir. Although they have no language between them, Piya and Fokir are powerfully drawn to each other, sharing an uncanny instinct for the ways of the sea. Piya engages Fokir to help with her research and finds a translator in Kanai Dutt, a businessman from Delhi whose idealistic aunt and uncle are longtime settlers in the Sundarbans. As the three of them launch into the elaborate backwaters, they are drawn unawares into the hidden undercurrents of this isolated world, where political turmoil exacts a personal toll that is every bit as powerful as the ravaging tide.
Already an international success, The Hungry Tide is a prophetic novel of remarkable insight, beauty, and humanity.
A starred review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred review.THE HUNGRY TIDEAmitav Ghosh. Houghton Mifflin, $25 (352p) 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 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."