The Works of Amitav Ghosh (1956-)

Amitav Ghosh, a leading postcolonial writer in English, is Indian by birth but global in his vision. The central concern of his work is the relationship of the individual to culture and history. He believes, as he wrote in a 14 December 2001 e-mail to Dipesh Chakraborty, the author of Provincializing Europe (1999), that "history is never more compelling than when it gives us insights into oneself and the ways in which one's own experience is constituted". For Ghosh, history is closely related to fiction and is more about people and their responses than about events and their causes and effects. A character in Ghosh's second novel, The Shadow Lines (1988), could be speaking for the author when he remarks, "everyone lives in a story." Looking back on that novel in The Imam and the Indian: Prose Pieces (2002), Ghosh reflects on writing about British colonialism, World War II, and the Partition of India: "It became a book not about any one event but about the meaning of events and their effects on the individuals who lived through them."


Ghosh embeds the historical event within a network of relationships, most significantly the relationships of the family. In his e-mail to Chakrabarty, Ghosh explains his rationale: "Two of my novels (The Shadow Lines, and my most recent The Glass Palace) are centred on families. I know that for myself this is a way of displacing the 'nation'--I am sure that this is the case also with many Indian writers other than myself. In other words, I'd like to suggest that writing about families is one way of not writing about the nation (or other restrictively imagined collectivities)." In The Imam and the Indian, Ghosh asserts that "one of the paradoxes of history is that it is impossible to draw a chart of the past without imagining a map of the present and the future." He also contrasts memory, "haunted always by the essential inexplicability of what has come to pass," with history, the business of rationalizing or making sense of the past. Writing about family experience through successive generations allows Ghosh to explore such insights.

Ghosh is known as a postcolonial writer because of his condemnation of imperialism and its consequent violence and prejudice. He believes that art has a special role to play in opposing forces that alienate people and communities. In his acknowledgments to The Imam and the Indian he states, "in the circuitry of the imagination, connections are of greater importance than disjunctions." One of the ways of making connections and promoting empathy and understanding is through the act of remembering and narrating stories about human endeavor and suffering. The duty of the artist is to ensure that such stories are not forgotten. Alluding to the Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan's essay "Literature and War," Ghosh writes, "It is when we think of the world that the aesthetic of indifference might bring into being, that we recognize the urgency of remembering the stories we have never written."

Ghosh's formative experiences involved travel and encountering cultural differences. Born in Calcutta on 11 July 1956, Ghosh was the son of Shailendra Chandra Ghosh, an officer in the British Indian army who became a diplomat in independent India, and Anjali Ghosh, a homemaker. He spent his childhood with his sister, Chaitali, in Calcutta as well as Dhaka, Colombo, and Iran, followed by a stint in a boarding school at Dehra Dun in Northern India. He graduated with a B.A., with honors in history, from St. Stephen's College, University of Delhi, in 1976 and an M.A. in sociology from the University of Delhi in 1978. While in college, between 1974 and 1978, he worked as a reporter and editor for the Indian Express. In Countdown (1999) he vividly recalls covering Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's suspension of constitutional processes during the state of emergency she declared in 1975-1976 and her shocking defeat at the polls the following year.

In 1979 Ghosh earned diplomas in social anthropology from Oxford University in England as well as in Arabic from the Institut Bourguiba de Langues Vivantes in Tunisia. He then completed a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford in 1982, doing a considerable amount of fieldwork in Egypt. He drew directly on his experiences in Egypt for In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale (1992) as well as some of the essays in The Imam and the Indian, while his academic interests in history, sociology, anthropology, and the history of culture permeate all his books.

From 1982 to 1983 Ghosh was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Development Studies at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala, India. Between 1983 and 1987 he taught in the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, first as a research associate and then as a lecturer. During this period he was associated with the Subaltern Studies Collective, a university group conducting important research into the history of contributions made by the "subaltern" or underprivileged sections of society to India's national culture. Radically departing from the traditional notion of history as a record of the activities of the elite, the group promoted an understanding of history that equally valued the handiwork of millions of nameless people whose influence on the course of events had gone unrecorded because of their perceived social inconsequence. The forgotten histories of such people are an important element in Ghosh's work, as is evident in his first novel, The Circle of Reason (1986), which was published while he was still teaching at Delhi.

The Circle of Reason, a picaresque tale set partly in the India of the British Raj and partly in the Middle East and North Africa, is about a young boy nicknamed Alu or "Potato" because his head resembles a large, irregularly-shaped tuber. Orphaned at an early age, Alu is raised in the village of Lalpukur near Calcutta by his childless uncle Balaram and aunt Toru-debi and becomes a master weaver. Balaram's immense enthusiasm for Western rationalism is matched only by his visceral hatred of British sovereignty in India. When the "School of Reason" that he sets up at his home is firebombed on the suspicion of its being a terrorist camp, Alu, the lone survivor, flees to the Middle East and then to North Africa. Pursued as a terrorist, he blends into the densely multicultural societies of the Indian Ocean rim, gaining a greater understanding of himself and his world. He learns that his Oriental heritage is in no way inferior to that offered by the Occident. He perceives his identity in part as the legacy of a vast precolonial network of historical and economic ties linking the ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa. Through "the flow of centuries of trade," involving "Persians, Iraqis, Zanzibari Arabs, Omanis and Indians," a sophisticated and self-sufficient cosmos evolved that had no need of the West. Ghosh depicts these older cultures, not in stereotypical terms of spirituality or tradition, but in all their bustling materiality and wealth. In his reverse mapping of the world, India, the Middle East, and Africa hold center stage, while Europe huddles on the periphery.

Alu's real name is Nachiketa, the name of a mythological Hindu sage who in the Katha Upanishad traveled to the underworld in search of truth. The Nachiketa analogue positions The Circle of Reason--with its three sections titled "Reason," "Passion," and "Death"--as another quest for truth, and Alu explores ancient Indian culture and philosophy as sources of wisdom and self-knowledge. Although Anthony Burgess in his review in the 6 July 1986 issue of The New York Times Book Review simplifies the allegorical implications of Ghosh's book as a binary opposition between traditional and modern or technological societies, Ghosh is more interested in exploring the problems and tensions that arise from the confrontation of East and West. His novel portrays the rich but forgotten past of the East even as it depicts its decline under the onslaught of Western modernity.

Ghosh's postcolonial recuperation of a precolonial past extends beyond the content of his novel to its narrative form. He abandons the traditionally linear plot of the Western novel for an exuberantly digressive and allegorical collage of episodes that recalls The Arabian Nights, the Buddhist Jataka tales, and the Hindu Panchatantra. The New York Times voted The Circle of Reason "Notable Title of the Year" in 1987 for its bold experimentation with content and form, and the novel has since been translated and published in Swedish, Italian, Dutch, German, Danish, Finnish, Spanish, and French.

Two years after the success of his first novel Ghosh published The Shadow Lines , the title of which recalls Joseph Conrad 's 1917 coming-of-age novella The Shadow-Line: A Confession. One of Ghosh's most acclaimed novels, The Shadow Lines is again experimental and postmodern in its treatment of history and the self. Written as a free-flowing nonchronological memory-narrative, the book spans two world wars, three countries (India, Britain, and what was earlier East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh), and three generations belonging to two interconnected families, one Indian and the other British. The device of filtering the momentous incidents of the first six decades of the twentieth century, during most of which India was still a colony, through the consciousness of a nameless Bengali boy from Calcutta has the effect of reversing the conventional stance on history, recording events not from the imperial center but from the subjugated periphery and showing what it was like to be shaped by, rather than to be in control of, those events.

Ghosh creates a complex vision of history in which apocalyptic violence is leavened by many small individual gestures of compassion and goodwill through counterpoint: the traumatic events of the Partition of India by her British colonial masters in 1947 on the one hand and the close emotional bonds linking the British and the Indian families on the other. The contrast between the divisive political confrontation and the warm personal relationship of the families provides a critique of man-made notions of difference that set up borders and exacerbate distinctions of class and culture. With the narrator moving from childhood to adulthood in the course of the action, the novel is a bildungsroman in which the protagonist learns to recognize the falsity as well as the tragic persistence of "shadow lines."

The story encompasses the negative movements of forcible dispersal and exile and the positive movements of reciprocity and travel. The two parts of the story, "Going Away" and "Coming Home," suggest the integration of all these cultural crossings through the consciousness of the narrator, who belongs to a highly educated, sophisticated, and well-traveled family of Hindus that fled to Calcutta from their ancestral home in predominantly Muslim Dhaka during the riots following the Partition of 1947. The refusal of the narrator's elderly grandmother Tha'mma to come to terms with her permanent banishment from the family home compels her to return to Dhaka in 1964 with a nephew, Tridib, who is tragically killed by a Muslim mob in the communal violence that flares up all over the subcontinent following the theft of a sacred Islamic relic from the Hazratbal mosque in Kashmir. The shadow lines of religious strife and cultural antagonism are thus seen to continue even in postimperial times, and Ghosh clearly wants his readers to consider the ways in which every individual is complicit in engendering hostility and mistrust.

The other main characters in the novel teach the narrator how to negotiate the shadow lines of his world. His chief mentor is his uncle Tridib, a Ph.D. student in archaeology, who helps him to connect the past with the present and find commonalities in difference: "Tridib had given me worlds to travel in and he had given me eyes to see them with." Cousins Robi and Ila are as cosmopolitan as Tridib but lack his imagination and sensitivity and so cannot share his "longing for everything that was not in oneself . . . that carried one beyond the limit of one's mind to other times and other places." From the example of his grandmother Tha'mma the boy discovers the consequences of ignoring reality and indulging a sentimental desire to turn the clock back. Most in tune with Tridib's pragmatic idealism are his British friend May Price and her father, Lionel Tresawsen; their relationship proves that breadth of vision and generosity of spirit can transcend dissimilarities in language and culture. Through his experiences in Calcutta and London the narrator comes to understand that official history is a construct of imperial or national self-interest, the exigencies of politics, the demands of the media, the pressures of racism and religious conflict, and various kinds of vested interests with their rumors and falsehoods. To counteract this fabricated history that stereotypes people and events as good or bad, it is necessary, the narrator learns, to construct one's own history based on the truth of experience because, as Tridib remarks, "if we didn't try ourselves, we would never be free of other people's inventions."

In 1989 The Shadow Lines, which has been translated into several languages, earned India's highest literary honor, the Sahitya Akademi Award. The next year brought Ghosh more recognition--The Shadow Lines won the Ananda Puraskar Award and The Circle of Reason was honored in France with the prestigious Prix Medici Etrangere--and a major change in his life, as he married Deborah Baker, a senior editor at Little, Brown. The couple made their home in Brooklyn, New York, where they have raised two children, Lila and Nayan.

Even as Ghosh's literary career flourished in the 1990s, he remained active as an academic. He was a Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Social Science in Calcutta from 1990 to 1992. Between 1990 and 1994 he was visiting professor at the University of Virginia and on more than one occasion at Columbia University. He also lectured at the American University in Cairo as Distinguished Visiting Professor in 1994. He became a frequently invited speaker on social anthropology and literature at international conferences and writers' festivals, often giving readings from his works

Ghosh's third major book, In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale , is a mainly nonfictional work that mixes history, biography, autobiography, ethnography, travel narrative, and fiction. His narrative moves back and forth between two stories: one based on Ghosh's experiences in Egypt as he was doing research for his doctoral thesis, and the other set in the distant past. Ghosh's research led him to his second story by way of the Cairo Geniza, an archive that contained documents belonging to the Egyptian Jewish community dating back for centuries. His attention was drawn to the life of a wealthy Jewish merchant of North African origin, Abraham Ben Yiju, who traveled from Egypt to the southern coast of India sometime in the twelfth century, following the prosperous Indian Ocean trade. Ben Yiju had an Indian wife, and his trusted slave and "business agent," Bomma, was Indian as well. The role that Bomma played in Ben Yiju's commercial ventures, a proletarian trace in the annals of the rich, fascinated Ghosh. The connection established through trade and family ties between an Egyptian and Indians in the medieval period becomes for Ghosh the symbol of an era in which culture, not conquest, braided societies together. In that world a saint with an Islamic name, Sadi Abu-Hasira, was actually a Jew venerated by Jews and Muslims alike. Language was another marker of cultural connections, as the Arabic word for "sugar" (sukkar) was derived from Sanskrit, while the Hindi word for the term, misri, came from "Masr," the old Arabic name for Egypt. Such intercommunity transactions flourished entirely beyond the influence of the West and were in fact destroyed by Western imperialism. As Ghosh notes, "The remains of those small, indistinguishable, intertwined histories, Indian and Egyptian, Muslim and Jewish, Hindu and Muslim, had been partitioned long ago."

Like his predecessor Bomma, Ghosh also traveled from India to Egypt, where he lived in villages in the Nile delta while tracking down the history of that bygone African-Indian connection. The stories of Ghosh and Bomma, of modern Egypt and Ben Yiju's Egypt, coil in and out of each other like a double helix, to use the author's metaphor, structurally replicating the ways in which the past impinges upon the present. Ghosh's interactions with his rustic neighbors, briefly recounted also in the title essay of The Imam and the Indian, provide some of the most exuberantly comic material in all his work. To his surprise he finds contemporary Egyptian culture more insular and materialistic, and, especially during the Gulf War, more fragile with respect to its traditions and values, than Ben Yiju's world, which seems to him to be more ecumenical and urbane. The modern Egyptian fails to understand Ghosh's Hindu beliefs and rituals, labeling them barbaric, while Ben Yiju, a Jew of Arab origin, had Hindu family and friends.

The blend of anthropology and autobiography in In an Antique Land aroused considerable interest among anthropologists as well as literary critics. In a review titled "A Passage to India" in the 23 August 1993 issue of New Republic, ethnologist Clifford Geertz praised Ghosh's ability to capture the dynamics of the medieval Indian Ocean trade and culture, a "mobile, polyglot and virtually borderless region, which no one owned and no one dominated." The book was the subject of a forty-minute television documentary on BBC Channel 3 in 1992 and listed as a "Notable Book of the Year" by The New York Times in 1993.

Ghosh's next book, The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery (1995), is part historical novel, part science fiction, and part medical thriller that transgresses conventional boundaries between fact and fiction and science and the paranormal. The events of the novel unfold along three time settings, the 1890s, 1995, and the early twenty-first century, and in two countries, the United States and India. The result is a cryptic, metafictional story-puzzle that won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction in 1997.

The novel begins in the twenty-first century when Antar, a low-level Egyptian American computer programmer, finds his ultrasophisticated terminal stalling when it comes across a damaged identification card belonging to Murugan, an eccentric former colleague of Indian origin who disappeared in Calcutta in 1995. Antar's investigations reveal that Murugan had gone to Calcutta to research the "secret history" behind the discovery of the malarial parasite by Colonel Ronald Ross, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1902. Antar eventually learns that an unlikely trio of investigators--Murugan, along with a young journalist, Urmila Roy, and an actress-turned-socialite, Sonali Das--had unearthed a sinister mystic cabal that had planned to use the research done by British scientists to produce a malaria-altered human chromosome (the "Calcutta chromosome") that could be used to carry the genetic imprint of one human being to another, thereby assuring continuity of the self through several transmigrations.

The initiators of this project, the ruthless priestess Mangala Bibi and her acolyte Laakhan, had learned of the malarial parasite through divination long before Ross's "discovery." Murugan infers that they used paranormal means to propel Ross toward his discovery to confer scientific validity on their occult "counter-science"--their use of Ross inverting the expected colonial relationship of the exploiter and the exploited. Wasted by syphilis, Murugan urgently desires to replicate his psychic being through the Calcutta chromosome. Having transgressed beyond permissible limits in this quest, he, like others before him who had interfered in the supernatural processes, loses his mind, ostensibly to syphilitic degeneration. Antar, whose curiosity leads him to decode Mangala's mysteries, also crosses too many boundaries.

In the novel Ghosh plays with the belief that well before science identified its cause and remedy, malaria was successfully treated by indigenous methods in tropical countries but that such "unscientific" cures were dismissed as "fevers" and "delirium." Mangala and Laakhan represent non-Eurocentric, non-Anglophone knowledge that is not credited because it is not articulated in terms acceptable to the West. As an exploration of the bases of knowledge, The Calcutta Chromosome does not endorse empirical observation alone or intuition; knowledge and truth are shown to be beyond the sole possession of either the East or the West.

Ghosh's next work, Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma (1998) is a nonfictional ethnographical travelogue comprising three short prose pieces--"Dancing in Cambodia," "Stories in Stones," and "At Large in Burma"--in which he again demonstrates the dichotomy between history as recorded and history as emotionally experienced. "Dancing in Cambodia" is framed by descriptions of two performances of the traditional classical dance of that country: beginning with the exhibition of the troupe of Royal dancers who moved Rodin to tears when King Sisowath visited France in May 1906 and ending with the performance of a dance troupe, assembled from among the survivors of the devastating carnage wrought by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Cultural Revolution, in a shattered theater in Phnom Penh. While Rodin's tears had been for the exquisite beauty of an exotic oriental artifact, the packed Cambodian audience for the latter performance wept because the dance symbolized the survival of their culture against all odds. In "Stories in Stones," Ghosh visits the monumental twelfth-century Cambodian temple complex of Angkor Wat, which he calls "a monument to the power of the story," and discusses the sometimes contrary purposes to which the story of the temple is told by priests, politicians, colonial explorers, Western tourists, and ordinary Cambodian citizens.

In "At Large in Burma," Ghosh considers the significance of activist Aung San Suu Kyi for the Burmese people oppressed by a dictatorial government.

From 1999 until 2003 Ghosh was Distinguished Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Queen's College, City University of New York. In 1999 his essay "The March of the Novel through History: The Testimony of my Grandfather's Bookcase," a witty, empathetic sketch of the idiosyncratic literary sensibilities of the cultured middle-class Bengali, won the Pushcart Prize, and his article on the political brinkmanship in the confrontation of India and Pakistan over the development of nuclear weapons, which was published separately as a book (1999) and in the 19 October 1998 issue of The New Yorker, made the final list for the American Society of Magazine Editors' Award for reporting on a contemporary event. During his years at the college he also brought to press the highly acclaimed The Glass Palace (2000) and The Imam and the Indian (2002).

More epical in scope than The Shadow LinesThe Glass Palace is a saga about three generations of two closely linked families in Burma, India, and Malaya from 1885 to 1956 that is also an historical novel about the British colonization of Burma. Arjun, a twentieth-century anti-imperialist character, states the terrible legacy of the colonial experience: "We rebelled against an Empire that has shaped everything in our lives. . . . It is a huge, indelible stain which has tainted all of us. We cannot deny it without destroying ourselves." Yet, while imperialism divides and partitions and sets limits to freedom, the characters in the novel spill so easily over national and family boundaries through friendship and marriage that it becomes difficult to pinpoint a character's affiliation as exclusively Indian or Burmese or Chinese or Malay. The Glass Palace is more than merely a revisionary rewriting of a portion of the history of the British Empire from the perspective of the colonized subaltern--it is a paean to the human instincts for bonding and survival.

The primary thrust of the novel is epistemological, as Ghosh explores the process of the making and recording of history and questions whether history, in the sense of a consistent and causal concatenation of events, is at all possible. Ghosh shows that history changes if the viewer's perspective is altered and suggests that fiction, as a transcript of experience rather than of fact, is a viable alternative to the story told by official history. The "Glass Palace" of the title stands not only for the royal palace at Mandalay, the seat of Burmese power before colonial rule, but also for the idea that there are as many "histories" as there are tellers of the tale. History is like the mirrored central hall from which the Glass Palace takes its name: "you could see yourself everywhere," and every image was refracted in multiple ways.

The Glass Palace was submitted by Ghosh's publisher for the Commonwealth Prize without his knowledge. When he learned that his novel was among the finalists for the award, he wrote to the administrators of the prize on 18 March 2001 to withdraw his book from the competition:

As a grouping of nations collected from the remains of the British Empire, the Commonwealth serves as an umbrella forum in global politics. As a literary or cultural grouping however, it seems to me that "the Commonwealth" can only be a misnomer so long as it excludes the many languages that sustain the cultural and literary lives of these countries (it is surely inconceivable, for example, that athletes would have to be fluent in English in order to qualify for the Commonwealth Games).

So far as I can determine, The Glass Palace is eligible for the Commonwealth Prize partly because it was written in English and partly because I happen to belong to a region that was once conquered and ruled by Imperial Britain. Of the many reasons why a book's merits may be recognized these seem to me to be the least persuasive. That the past engenders the present is of course undeniable; it is equally undeniable that the reasons why I write in English are ultimately rooted in my country's history. Yet, the ways in which we remember the past are not determined solely by the brute facts of time: they are also open to choice, reflection and judgment. The issue of how the past is to be remembered lies at the heart of The Glass Palace and I feel that I would be betraying the spirit of my book if I were to allow it to be incorporated within that particular memorialization of Empire that passes under the rubric of "the Commonwealth."

Ghosh's novel did win the Grand Prize for Fiction of the 2001 Frankfurt eBook Award and was named among the notable books of the year by The New York Times as well as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.


In 2002 Ghosh brought out The Imam and the Indian: Prose Pieces , a collection of his published articles. The first fourteen pieces offer valuable insights into Ghosh's major literary concerns. The book also includes "Hungry Stones," Ghosh's sensitive translation of Rabindranath Tagore's Bengali short story "Kshudita Pashan." The two most moving pieces are "The Greatest Sorrow: Times of Joy Recalled in Wretchedness," an essay on diaspora as doomed dispersal rather than hopeful exodus, and "The Ghat of the Only World: Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn," a tribute to the Kashmiri poet of the diaspora. In the range of its themes and topics, The Imam and the Indian offers one of the best introductions to Ghosh's work.

Ghosh in 2003 became a visiting professor at Harvard University and the following year published his fifth novel, The Hungry Tide (2004), set in the Sunderbans, the "tide country" of southern Bengal, in the deltas of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra Rivers. The novel portrays the stark struggle to survive on the islands in the Bay of Bengal, an area subject to raging cyclones and the habitat of tigers, crocodiles, and snakes. It is the first book in which Ghosh presents a character, like himself, with both Indian and American affiliations: one of its protagonists is Piyali Roy, an American cetologist of Bengali origin who has come to the Sunderbans to study a rare species of dolphin. Although she does not at first recognize her ulterior motive, Piya is also in search of her roots.

Piya meets Kanai Dutt, a suave Delhi-based Bengali businessman visiting his aunt Nilima, a respected social worker who has dedicated her life to building a school, a hospital, and other facilities on one of the most remote of the islands, Lusibari. Kanai has come to collect a packet of papers left for him by his uncle Nirmal, an idealistic Marxist who died under mysterious circumstances. Piya also meets a local boatman, Fokir, whose intimate knowledge of the tidal waters and their traditional lore leads her to the dolphins. Confident in his knowledge of nature but poor, ragged, and unlettered, Fokir is the antithesis of the urbane Piya and the sophisticated Kanai. When Kanai acts as Piya's interpreter with Fokir and the crew of her hired boat, the interaction between the three is socially and psychologically complex. The novel ends with Fokir's death in a fierce cyclone and Piya and Kanai returning to Lusibari to participate in Nilima's welfare work, perhaps to share a future together.

Despite Ghosh's use of a romantic triangle, The Hungry Tide is not a conventional love story. The violent confrontation between Kanai and Fokir on a deserted island is not so much over Piya as it is about antagonisms fueled by differences in class, culture, and worldview. Thus, on one level Ghosh presents a story of self-realization, of confronting one's inner demons on the part of Fokir no less than of Piya and Kanai, and of Piya's and Kanai's recognition that the illiterate subaltern Fokir is as much of an individual as themselves. A second strand of the story revolves around Nirmal's manuscript--an account of his clandestine involvement in a people's movement that broke out in 1979 on the island of Morichjhampi--that Kanai reads as he goes about his work, thus setting up a counterpoint to the main action. Kanai learns of the massacre at Morichjhampi, which occurred when the Marxist government of West Bengal forcibly evicted thousands of refugees along with other landless people who had set up a commune there following the 1947 Partition of India. Set off against Nirmal's account is the little-known story of how Englishmen, led by Sir Daniel Hamilton, reclaimed the tidal land and established settlements with names such as Emilybari (Emily's Home) and Annbari (Ann's Home). The pioneering spirit of the elite is celebrated as history, but the accomplishments of the subaltern populace are erased.

The trackless wilderness of the Sunderbans, where all geographical signposts and human settlements are wiped out time and again by tides and storms, is the antithesis of an established civilization with its chronicled continuity. The cavalcade of tempests that Ghosh describes, with place-names and dates and tallies of casualties and the regular reshaping of the face of the land, matches any account of changes wrought by wars and revolutions. In his evocation of the "tide people," whose lives are forever at the mercy of nature and beasts of prey, Ghosh yet shows that they have created a rich oral culture of tradition, song, and legend. The Hungry Tide thus stands at last as proof of Ghosh's inclusive vision of human worth through the stories of one of the least known communities in the world.

Amitav Ghosh has evolved a style and approach to his material distinctively his own. His fictional and nonfictional work mixes history, philosophy, science, literature, ethnography and folk culture on the one hand, and the picaresque narrative, travelogue, the novel of social commentary, fable, folktale, and popular culture genres such as detective fiction on the other. A postmodern writer in many respects, Ghosh is also a humanist. An insightful comment on his work comes from one of his own characters, Daw Thin Thin Aye, who is a creative writer in The Glass Palace: "Going into a house, intruding, violating, . . . I feel a kind of terror--and that's when I know I must keep going, step on, past the threshold, into the house." Ghosh's achievement is to take the reader into the edifice of history, discover those forgotten within, and lay bare the feelings that are obscured by facts.


From: Sen, Krishna. "Amitav Ghosh." South Asian Writers in English, edited by Fakrul Alam, Gale, 2006.


  • Further Reading
    • N. Bagchi, "The Process of Validation in Relation to Materiality and Historical Reconstruction in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines," Modern Fiction Studies, 39, no. 1 (1993): 187-202.
    • R. Basu, 1994, "Amitav Ghosh's Action: Turning the Full Circle," in Indian-English Fiction 1980-1990: An Assessment, edited by N. E. Bharucha and V. Sarang (New Delhi: B.R. Publishing, 1994), pp. 151-160.
    • Basu, "The Novels of Amitav Ghosh," London Magazine, 37 (August-September 1997): 159-161.
    • K. C. Beliappa, "Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land: An Excursion into Time Past and Time Present," in The Postmodern Indian Novel: Interrogating the 1980s and 1990s, edited by V. Kirpal (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1996), pp. 59-66.
    • S. Chew, "Texts and Worlds in Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land," in Re-Constructing the Book: Literary Texts in Transmission, edited by M. Bell, S. Chew, S. Eliot, L. Hunter, and J. L. W. West III (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), pp. 197-209.
    • S. Dayal, "The Emergence of the Fragile Subject: Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land," in Hybridity and Postcolonialism: Twentieth-Century Indian Literature, edited by M. Fludernik (Tübingen, Germany: Stauffenburg, 1998), pp. 103-133.
    • R. K. Dhawan, ed., The Novels of Amitav Ghosh (New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1999).
    • R. Dixon, "'Travelling in the West': The Writing of Amitav Ghosh," Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 31, no. 1 (1996): 3-24.
    • L. James and J. Shepherd, "Shadow Lines: Cross-Cultural Perspectives in the Fiction of Amitav Ghosh," Commonwealth Essays and Studies, 14 (Autumn 1991): 28-32.
    • R. Kamath, "Memory and Discourse: On Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land," in The Poetics of Memory, edited by T. Wagenbaur (Tübingen, Germany: Stauffenburg, 1998), pp. 205-213.
    • N. Kapadia, "Imagination and Politics in Amitav Ghosh's 'The Shadow Lines,'" in The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s, edited by V. Kirpal (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1990), pp. 201-212.
    • J. Majeed, "Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land: The Ethnographer-Historian and the Limits of Irony," Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 30, no. 2 (1995): 45-55.
    • P. Mongia, "Postcolonial Identity in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines,College Literature, 20, no. 1 (1993): 225-228.
    • G. J. V. Prasad, "The Unfolding of a Raga: Narrative Structure in The Circle of Reason," in The New Indian Novel in English: A Study of the 1980s, edited by V. Kirpal (New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1990), pp. 101-108.
    • N. Rao, "Cosmopolitanism, Class and Gender in The Shadow Lines,South Asian Review, 24, no. 1 (2003).
    • A. Roy, "Microstoria: Indian Nationalism's 'Little Stories' in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines,Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 35, no. 2 (2000): 35-49.
    • A. Sen, "Crossing Boundaries in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines,Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies, 5 (Fall 1997): 46-58.
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