Tuesday 3 September 2013

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide

Just finished another wonderful book by Amitav Ghosh: The Hungry Tide. I am amazed at how Ghosh can go on producing one masterpiece after another. My first was The Glass Palace. The second was probably Sea of Poppies, and then came The Calcutta Chromosome. I began reading In an Antique Land, but did not finish, and now I don't have a copy. The Cairo Geniza is something quite real, and I was keen to get into the story that Ghosh weaves about a Jewish Egyptian merchant and the love he finds, of all places, in Mangalore....

Ghosh is truly something. I believe In an Antique Land is at least part autobiographical: Ghosh did some time in an Egyptian village, teaching himself Arabic. The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide are also in that sense part autobiographical. But I guess all great novelists mine their own experience for material. Where else would you get what to write about.

The Hungry Tide is remarkable in its close description of life in the Sunderbans. But Ghosh is really a master of human description. I recall just now the way Kanai loses his temper so completely at Fokir:
Suddenly the blood rushed to Kanai's head and obscenities began to pour from his mouth: 'Shala, banchod, shuorer bachcha.'
His anger came welling up with an atavistic explosiveness, rising from sources whose very existence he would have denied: the master's suspicion of the menial; the pride of caste; the townsman's mistrust of the rustic; the city's antagonism to the village. He had thought that he had cleansed himself of these sediments of the past, but the violence with which they came spewing out of him now suggested that they had only been compacted into an explosive and highly volatile reserve. (The Hungry Tide [Noida: HarperCollins 2010] 326)

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