About a quarter of the Sundarbans, which form the core of this novel, was damaged by a cyclone a few years ago. Researchers said that the mangrove forests surrounding the tiny islands would take at least forty years to recover. One wonders how Amitav Ghosh would have written the novel if he’d set it in the years after the catastrophe.
In a recent interview he said that the idea for his latest book, The Great Derangement, on climate change and its non-existence in literary novels, was born when he was writing The Hungry Tide.
Ghosh treats the Sundarbans as the key character in his novel and it’s in this complex and dangerous ecosystem of deadly tigers and tidal floods where the lives of three people from different worlds intersect. Piyali Roy, a young marine biologist, arrives in search of a rare, endangered river dolphin. She hires the local fisherman Fokir as her guide and Kanai, who’s come from Delhi to visit his widowed aunt and review some writings left behind by her husband, as her translator. But it’s to the illiterate Fokir that she’s drawn, sharing an “uncanny instinct for the ways of the sea.”
This is a book that challenges everything from our notions of place and reality to our notions of what the novel can do. At one point, Kanai's uncle writes that “here in the tide country, transformation is the rule of life.” We feel, by the end of this compelling book, that we have been to that country, and that it has –maybe not for the first time – remade us (WarerBridge Review).
The Hungry Tide won the 2004 Crossword Book Award for Fiction.
Published in 2004.