Author: Amitav Ghosh

Category: Literary Fiction

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“A stunning novel” following two families—one British, one Bengali—from the New York Times–bestselling author of Sea of Poppies (The New Republic).   Opening in Calcutta in the 1960s, Amitav Ghosh’s radiant second novel follows an English family and a Bengali family as their lives intertwine across the generations in both tragic and comic ways. The narrator, Indian born and English educated, traces events back and forth in time, from the outbreak of World War II to the late twentieth century, through years of Bengali partition and violence—observing the ways in which political events invade private lives—in an “ambitious, funny, poignant” saga (A. K. Ramanujan).   “Amusing, sad, wise, and truly international in scope.” —The New York Times Book Review

From Publishers Weekly With Proustian precision, the narrator of Ghosh's second novel (after The Circle of Reason ) recalls the people and events that dominated his childhood in Calcutta in the '60s, and later in London, when those people, and the lasting influence of the events, come together in a circle of sorrow. The narrator focuses on two families known to each other since the time of the Raj: his own, in particular his cousin Ila and her young uncle Tridib, and the Prices, including the children May and Nick. Meticulously observant, he describes his school days, punctuated by visits with Tridib (whose conversation, especially about his visits with the Prices, the boy will remember almost word for word) or from Ila's family, who lived mostly abroad because her father was a diplomat. While the mystery at the tale's heart concerns Tridib's fate in the city of Dhaka during the summer of Bangladesh's Partition, in 1964, the effects of that crucial time--on the narrator, on May--do not unfold until nearly 20 years later. Such delayed understanding is the fuel that powers Ghosh's quiet, forceful writing, in which detail and memory are shown to shape our lives as effectively as events of global importance. Examining connectedness and separation, the author uses the fate of nations to offer observations about a profoundly human condition. Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the paperback edition. Review Stunning ... amusing, sad, wise New York Times Book Review Ghosh has found his own distinctive voice - polished and profound ... A compelling novel, wistful in its tone, assured in its achieved vision Times Literary Supplement PRAISE FOR SEA OF POPPIES - 'Sea of Poppies Boasts a varied collection of characters to love and hate, and provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of opium production ... utterly involving and piles on tension until the very last page' Peter Parker, Sunday Times 'A glorious babel of a novel ... marvellously inventive ... utterly involving ... The next volume cannot come too soon' Sunday Times 'An utterly involving book' Sunday Times 'This is a panoramic adventure story, with a Dickensian energy and scope' Sunday Telegraph 'Ghosh's narrative is enriched with a wealth of historical detail ... as well as intricate characterisation that makes interaction among the diverse group truly absorbing' The Times 'There can be fewer more exciting settings for a novel than a sea-tossed sailing ship ... Ghosh piles detail upon detail in a rumbustical adventure' The Times 'Ripping post-colonial yarn ... Ghosh spins a fine story with a quite irresistible flow, breathing exuberant life ... an absorbing vision' Guardian 'A remarkably rich saga' Observer 'Each scene is boldly drawn, but it is the sheer energy and verve of Amitav Ghosh's storytelling that binds this ambitious medley' Daily Mail This is a corker Spectator Ghosh turns the ship into something robustly, bawdily and indelibly real ... a plot of Dickensian intricacy New York Times 'A master of fiction' Economist 'A richly drawn cast of characters ... gilded with expertly-mined historical detail' Sunday Business Post 'The fantastic Anglo-Asian language they speak is infectious, and the sombre yet uncertain conclusion leaves one eager for the second novel in the trilogy' Daily Telegraph 'A captivating cast ... Ghosh's saga is enriched with a blizzard of Laskari- and Hindi-derived words that add irrepressible energy to the narrative' Metro 'Beautifully written, this totally absorbing novel will leave you eagerly awaiting a second instalment' She Magazine '...this first volume in a promise trilogy is a gem.' Guardian --Guardian --This text refers to the paperback edition. From Library Journal In his splendid first novel, The Circle of Reason ( LJ 6/15/86), Ghosh touched on the themes of emigration, exile, and cultural displacement. Here, in language equally remarkable and even more refined, he weaves together the experiences of two families--one Bengali, the other English--to illustrate the hard reality and ultimate fragility of human boundaries. The narrator is an Indian boy whose identity is shaped by the stories he is told, and tells, about private lives and public events that span three generations. Moving back and forth through the 20th century by artful time shifts, the boy reaches beyond "the seductive clarity of ignorance" to "a final redemptive mystery." Unlike the author's first novel, this is not a work of magical realism, but the magic not in the tale abounds in the telling.- L.M. Lewis, Eastern Kentucky Univ., RichmondCopyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the paperback edition. From the Back Cover Opening in Calcutta in the 1960s, Ghosh?s radiant second novel follows two families ? one English, one Bengali ? as their lives intertwine in tragic and comic ways. The narrator, Indian-born and English educated, traces events back and forth in time, through years of Bengali partition and violence, observing the ways in which political events invade private lives. The Shadow Lines is a ?stunning novel, a rare work that balances formal ingenuity, heart, and mind? ? New Republic --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. About the Author Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956 and raised and educated in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, Egypt, India, and the United Kingdom, where he received his Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford. Acclaimed for fiction, travel writing, and journalism, his books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In an Antique Land, and Dancing in Cambodia. Ghosh has won France’s Prix Medici Etranger, India’s prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He now divides his time between Harvard University, where he is a visiting professor, and his homes in India and Brooklyn, New York. --This text refers to the paperback edition. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. The Shadow LinesBy Amitav GhoshHoughton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing CompanyCopyright © 1988 Amitav GhoshAll rights reserved.ISBN: 978-0-618-32996-0ContentsTitle Page, Contents, Copyright, Dedication, GOING AWAY, COMING HOME, About the Author, CHAPTER 1GOING AWAYIn 1939, thirteen years before I was born, my father's aunt, Mayadebi, went to England with her husband and her son, Tridib.It startles me now to discover how readily the name comes off my pen as 'Mayadebi' for I have never spoken of her thus; not aloud, at any rate: as my grandmother's only sister, she was always Mayathakuma to me. But still, from as far back as I can remember, I have known her, in the secrecy of my mind, as 'Mayadebi'— as though she were a well-known stranger, like a film star or a politician whose picture I had seen in a newspaper. Perhaps it was merely because I knew her very little, for she was not often in Calcutta. That explanation seems likely enough, but I know it to be untrue. The truth is that I did not want to think of her as a relative: to have done that would have diminished her and her family — I could not bring myself to believe that their worth in my eyes could be reduced to something so arbitrary and unimportant as a blood relationship.Mayadebi was twenty-nine when they left, and Tridib was eight.Over the years, although I cannot remember when it happened any more than I can remember when I first learnt to tell the time or tie my shoelaces, I have come to believe that I was eight too when Tridib first talked to me about that journey. I remember trying very hard to imagine him back to my age, to reduce his height to mine, and to think away the spectacles that were so much a part of him that I really believed he had been born with them. It wasn't easy, for to me he looked old, impossibly old, and I could not remember him looking anything other than old — though, in fact, at that time he could not have been much older than twenty-nine. In the end, since I had nothing to go on, I had decided that he had looked like me.But my grandmother, when I asked her, was very quick to contradict me. She shook her head firmly, looking up from her schoolbooks, and said: No, he looked completely different — not at all like you.My grandmother didn't approve of Tridib. He's a loafer and a wastrel, I would sometimes hear her saying to my parents; he doesn't do any proper work, lives off his father's money.To me, she would only allow herself to say with a sardonic little twist of her mouth: I don't want to see you loafing about with Tridib; Tridib wastes his time.It didn't sound terrible, but in fact, in my grandmother's usage, there was nothing very much worse that could be said of anyone. For her, time was like a toothbrush: it went mouldy if it wasn't used. 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.As for herself, she had been careful to rid our little flat of everything that might encourage us to let our time stink. No chessboard nor any pack of cards ever came through our door; there was a battered Ludo set somewhere but I was allowed to play with it only when I was ill. She didn't even approve of my mother listening to the afternoon radio play more than once a week. In our flat we all worked hard at whatever we did: my grandmother at her schoolmistressing; I at my homework; my mother at her housekeeping; my father at his job as a junior executive in a company which dealt in vulcanised rubber.Our time wasn't given the slightest opportunity to grow mouldy.That was why I loved to listen to Tridib: he never seemed to use his time, but his time didn't stink.Sometimes Tridib would drop in to see us without warning. My grandmother, for all her disapproval of him, would be delighted whenever he came — partly because she was fond of him in her own way, but mainly because Tridib and his family were our only rich relatives, and it flattered her to think that he had gone out of his way to come and see her.But of course, she knew, though she wouldn't admit it, that he had really come to nurse his stomach. The truth was that his digestion was a mess; ruined by the rivers of hard-boiled tea he had drunk at roadside stalls all over south Calcutta. Every once in a while a rumble in his bowels would catch him unawares on the streets and he would have to sprint for the nearest clean lavatory.This condition was known to us as Tridib's Gastric.Once every few months or so we would answer the doorbell and find him leaning against the wall, his legs tightly crossed, the sweat starting from his forehead. But he wouldn't come in right away: there was a careful etiquette attached to these occasions. My parents and grandmother would collect at the doorway and, ignoring his writhings, would proceed to ask him about his family's doings and whereabouts, and he in turn, smiling fixedly, would ask them how they were, and how I was, and finally, when it had been established to everyone's satisfaction that he had come on a Family Visit, he would shoot through the door straight into the lavatory. When he emerged again he would be his usual nonchalant, collected self; he would sink into our 'good' sofa and the ritual of the Family Visit would begin. My grandmother would hurry into the kitchen to make him an omelette — a leathery little squiggle studded with green chillies, which would lie balefully on its plate, silently challenging Gastric to battle. This was the greatest sign of favour she could show to a visitor — an omelette made with her own hands (it fell to the less favoured to feast on my mother's masterly tidbits — hot shingaras stuffed with mincemeat and raisins, or crisp little dalpuris).Sometimes, watching him as he chewed upon her omelette, she would ask: And how is Gastric? or: Is Gastric better now? Tridib would merely nod casually and change the subject; he didn't like to talk about his digestion — it was the only evidence of prudery I ever saw in him. But since I always heard my grandmother using that word as a proper noun, I grew up believing that 'Gastric' was the name of an organ peculiar to Tridib — a kind of aching tooth that grew out of his belly button. Of course, I never dared ask to see it.Despite the special omelette, however, my grandmother would not let him stay long. She believed him to be capable of exerting his influence at a distance, like a baneful planet — and since she also believed the male, as a species, to be naturally frail and wayward, she would not allow herself to take the risk of having him for long in our flat where I, or my father, might be tempted to move into his orbit.I didn't mind particularly, for Tridib was never at his best in our flat. I far preferred to run into him at the street corners in our neighbourhood. It didn't happen very often — no more than once a month perhaps — but still, I took his presence on these streets so much for granted that it never occurred to me that I was lucky to have him in Calcutta at all.Tridib's father was a diplomat, an officer in the Foreign Service. He and Mayadebi were always away, abroad or in Delhi; after intervals of two or three years they would sometimes spend a couple of months in Calcutta, but that was all. Of Tridib's two brothers, Jatin-kaku, the elder, who was two years older than Tridib, was an economist with the UN. He was always away too, somewhere in Africa or South East Asia, with his wife and his daughter Ila, who was my age. The third brother, Robi, who was much younger than the other two, having been born after his mother had had several miscarriages, lived with his parents wherever they happened to be posted until he was sent away to boarding school at the age of twelve.So Tridib was the only person in his family who had spent most of his life in Calcutta. For years he had lived in their vast old family house in Ballygunge Place with his ageing grandmother.My grandmother claimed that he had stayed on in Calcutta only because he didn't get along with his father. This was one of her complaints against him: not that he didn't get along with his father, for she didn't much care for his father either — but that he had allowed something like that to interfere with his prospects and career. For her, likes and dislikes were unimportant compared to the business of fending for oneself in the world: as far as she was concerned it was not so much odd as irresponsible of Tridib to shut himself away in that old house with his grandmother; it showed him up as an essentially lightweight and frivolous character. She might have changed her opinion if he had been willing to marry and settle down (and she hadn't any doubt at all that she could have found him a rich wife), but every time she suggested it he merely laughed. This was further proof that he lacked that core of gravity and determination which distinguishes all responsible and grown-up men; a sure sign that he was determined to waste his life in idle self-indulgence. And yet, although she would pretend to dismiss him with a toss of her head, she never ceased to be wary of him, to warn me against his influence: at heart she believed that all men would be like him if it were not for their mothers and wives.She would often try to persuade me that she pitied him. Poor Tridib, she would say. There's nothing in the world he couldn't have done with his connections — he could have lived like a lord and run the country. And look at him — oh, poor Tridib — living in that crumbling house, doing nothing.But even as a child I could tell she didn't pity him at all — she feared him.Of course, even she would acknowledge sometimes that Tridib did not really do 'nothing'. In fact, he was working on a PhD in archaeology — something to do with sites associated with the Sena dynasty of Bengal. But this earned him very little credit in my grandmother's eyes. Being a schoolteacher herself, she had an inordinate respect for academic work of any kind: she saw research as a life-long pilgrimage which ended with a named professorship and a marble bust in the corridors of Calcutta University or the National Library. It would have been a travesty to think of an irresponsible head like Tridib's mounted in those august corridors.Part of the reason why my grandmother was so wary of him was that she had seen him a couple of times at the street corners around Gole Park where we lived. She had a deep horror of the young men who spent their time at the street-corner addas and tea-stalls around there. All fail-cases, she would sniff; think of their poor mothers, flung out on dung-heaps, starving ...Seeing Tridib there a few times was enough to persuade her that he spent all his time at those addas, gossiping: it seemed to fit with the rest of him.But the truth was that Tridib came there rarely, not more than once or twice a month. I would usually hear when he came: Nathu Chaubey, the paanwala who sat in the stall at the corner of our lane, or my friend Montu, who could see the far side of the lane from his bathroom window, or someone at the second-hand bookstalls, would tell me. They all knew I was related to Tridib.When I go past Gole Park now I often wonder whether that would happen today. I don't know, I can't tell: that world is closed to me, shut off by too many years spent away. Montu went away to America years ago and Nathu Chaubey, I heard, went back to Banares and started a hotel. When I walk past his paan-shop now and look at the crowds thronging through those neon-lit streets, the air-conditioned shops packed in with rickety stalls and the tarpaulin counters of pavement vendors, at the traffic packed as tight as a mail train all the way to the Dhakuria overbridge, somehow, though the paan-shop hasn't changed, I find myself doubting it. At that time, in the early sixties, there were so few cars around there that we thought nothing of playing football on the streets around the roundabout — making way occasionally for the number 9, or any other bus that happened to come snorting along. There were only a few scattered shacks on Gariahat Road then, put up by the earliest refugees from the east. Gole Park was considered to be more or less outside Calcutta: in school when I said I lived there the boys from central Calcutta would often ask me if I caught a train every morning, as though I lived in some far-flung refugee camp on the border.I would usually hear that Tridib was around on my way back from our evening cricket game in the park. My cricket game was the one thing for which my grandmother never grudged me time away from my homework: on the contrary, she insisted that I run down to the park by the lake whether I wanted to or not. You can't build a strong country, she would say, pushing me out of the house, without building a strong body.She would watch from her window to make sure I ran all the way to the park.But if I happened to hear that Tridib was around I would double back through the park and the back lanes. Someone would always be able to tell me where he was: he was a familiar figure within the floating, talkative population of students and would-be footballers and bank clerks and small-time politicos and all the rest who gravitated towards that conversation-loving stretch of road between Gariahat and Gole Park. It did not occur to me then to wonder why he was well known, or known at all — I simply took the fact for granted, and was grateful for the small privileges his presence secured for me on those streets: for the odd sweet given to me by a shopkeeper of his acquaintance; for being rescued from a fight in the park by some young fellow who knew him. But in fact it seems something of a mystery to me now, why they put up with him: he was never one of them, he didn't even live there, and he often didn't have much to say. He was usually content to listen to their loud quicksilver conversations in silence: often when he came he would have about him the tired, withdrawn air of a man who has risen from some exhausting labour and ventured out to distract himself.But occasionally, when he was in the mood and somebody happened to say something that made a breach in his vast reservoirs of abstruse information, he would begin to hold forth on all kinds of subjects — Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of García Lorca, there seemed to be no end to the things he could talk about. On those evenings, looking at the intent faces of his listeners, watching his thin, waspish face, his tousled hair and his bright black eyes glinting behind his gold-rimmed glasses, I would be close to bursting with pride.But even at those times, when he was the centre of everybody's attention, there was always something a little detached about his manner. He did not seem to want to make friends with the people he was talking to, and that perhaps was why he was happiest in neutral, impersonal places — coffee houses, bars, street-corner addas — the sort of places where people come, talk and go away without expecting to know each other any further. That was also why he chose to come all the way from Ballygunge to Gole Park for his addas — simply because it was far enough for him to be sure that he wouldn't meet any of his neighbours there.Perhaps they put up with him simply because he wasn't like them, because he was different — partly also because they were a little frightened of him: of the occasional, devastating sharpness of his tongue, and of the oddly disconcerting streams of talk that would suddenly come gushing out of him. But of course, he also had his uses: there was a streak of intensely worldly shrewdness in him which would stand them in good stead every once in a while. For example, he would give a student precise and detailed instructions on how to write an examination paper, because he happened to know that Professor So-and-so was going to correct it, and he liked answers that were slanted just so, and the student would do as he had said, and get a first class. Or else when someone was going to appear for a job interview he would tell him what he was likely to be asked, and when the interview was over it would turn out that Tridib's predictions had been dead right. But equally his advice would sometimes seem deliberately misleading, perverse. Once, for instance, he told a young man who was going to be interviewed by a multinational company that the firm, once famous for its stuffiness, had recently been bought by a Marwari businessman and become very nationalist, and that he would not stand any chance at all of getting in unless he went to the interview dressed in a dhoti. The young man went off to the interview duly clad in dhoti, and found that the doorman wouldn't let him in. (Continues...)Excerpted from The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. Copyright © 1988 Amitav Ghosh. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site. --This text refers to the paperback edition.