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The Hungry Tide    by Amitav Ghosh order for
Hungry Tide
by Amitav Ghosh
Order:  USA  Can
Houghton Mifflin, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Some books are about people. This one is about a place, a very special one that is a part of the coast of India, the Sundarbans. It is an area of islands that appear and disappear, sometimes overnight, sometimes over many years. In this precarious place, people try to eke out an existence, along with man-eating tigers, crocodiles, and the ever-present dense mangroves that appear as soon as the land is undisturbed for a short period of time.

Into this murky existence comes Piya, a young scientist who is studying dolphins, and Kanai, a self-assured middle-aged translator who is visiting an aunt. Piya becomes partners with an uneducated young man named Fokir, who is a very skillful and knowledgeable navigator in the waters of the archipelago. People disapprove of their relationship - not only because Fokir is married but more because, even though Piya is of Indian parentage, she is seen as a foreigner. She was raised in America and has no real knowledge of India.

Kanai tries to help his aunt make sense of her husband's last years by reading a newly-discovered diary left to him by his uncle. The diary confirms his uncle as an idealist and tells the history of this part of the world, its geography, its people and its legends. As he reads and learns of this world of the recent past, Kanai also discovers just how thin the veneer of civilization (that he feels so much a part of) is and how much he, a well-educated man, really does not know.

A storm tearing through the area brings both tragedy and clarity to these two people, who must accept the changes and dangers that are constant in this unstable area, and appreciate the difficult work of those who attempt to live here. The Hungry Tide is a unique tale, one that I highly recommend.

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