Book Reviews

Book review – Shadow lines, Amitav Ghosh


I loved “The hungry tide” and “The glass palace” both of which I have read fully. I struggled a little bit with “Sea of poppies” and I haven’t yet read “The river of smoke”. I think Amitav Ghosh is a brilliant writer and just “The glass palace” alone makes him the number one comtemporary author. 

All his books slowly build the plot … Guess that’s life too. Things appear dramatic and sudden but they have been building for a while. In Shadow Lines too, the start is slow and I enjoyed tracking and backtracking to the present and the past. It’s a little tough but brings out the characters clearly. I struggled a bit to place Robi and the fact that Tridib and he were siblings. The way Tridib is all over the novel, I didn’t expect that he lived a very short life. The relationship between May and Tridib was again very interesting and interweaved into the story in a start-stop manner. I am hoping I got the relationships right … Tridib, Jatin and Robi are siblings and Ila is Jatin’s daughter. The author is the other central character the same age as Ila and his grandmother and Ila’s grandmother are sisters – so the author and Ila are second cousins in a way. And Tridib and Robi become uncles. 

The whole book is in the shadow of Tridib’s short life and Amitav Ghosh’s brilliance comes through when you realise that Tridib had a short life nearly at the end of the book. The story moves in parallel between London, Dhaka and Calcutta. Some great statements I underlined in the book – 

“I asked her once what happened to wasted time. She tossed her small silvery head, screwed up her long nose and said: It begins to stink.” – great way to explain away wasted time !

“But he knew that the clarity of that image in his mind was merely the seductive clarity of ignorance; an illusion of knowledge created by a deceptive weight of remembered detail.” What a beautiful choice of words “seductive clarity of ignorance”. Osho would always say that the ignorant and the fools are sure … The truly intelligent and knowledgeable person is always in doubt :):).

“in much the way that a great conductor can sometimes produce, within a vast tumult of music, one perfect semibreve of silence”. I had not know this word “semibreve”. Very interesting sentence composition too. 

A beautiful description of the mental state of citizens in the sub-continent – 

“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 fear that comes of the knowledge that normalcy is utterly contingent, that the spaces that surround one, the streets that one inhabits, can become, suddenly and without warning, as hostile as a desert in a flash flood. It is this that sets apart the thousand million people who inhabit the subcontinent from the rest of the world—not language, not food, not music—it is the special quality of loneliness that grows out of the fear of the war between oneself and one’s image in the mirror.”

This book is definitely worth a read. Spend some time re-reading portions of it after reading it once fully. It will help sort out the characters and make the story just come alive. 

Thank you Amitav Ghosh for another really good book !

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