Book Review- Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh
This is the first Amitav Ghosh that I picked up. I had heard great things about Shadow Lined and The glass palace. Somehow happened to lay my hands on this first!
The book started slow- In 1930s- description of family, Calcutta, Bangladesh , relatives etc.And gradually the book picked up pace. I initially could stop to type down beautiful lines or para. But after a while, all I wanted to do was to keep reading without a stop. It was that good!
We can judge a man by what he writes and the way he writes. There are people who are creative, some who are visionaries. Ghosh is one of them. ( Amitav Ghosh, I mean !). How beautifully he describes scenes, different places, history- it feels as if we are right there- living in a boundary less world.
The part of the book where the protagonist and his group are looking at old photographs and were describing what they thought was happening and how the picture was clicked- I found it very unique. I somehow loved the way he book was written. I generally like first person narrative- more than second or third person. It gives a more personal touch.
Another good thing about the plot was that though we hear the story from one man’s point of view, we have several characters and all of their interpretations are given equal important. Best thing that we never feel lost. The story goes back and forth in time, introduces new people and new stories but you accept all of them as your own.
I also liked the way it ended. The book was never meant to be a suspense, but somehow, you get involved in the story that you never see it coming, till you cover 2/3rd of book! I won’t give any spoilers. You have to read it to understand it better.
Below are just a few lines I really liked. Of course, as mentioned it covers less than half the book. Post that, I was busy just enjoying the read!
1. And still, I knew that the sights Tridib saw in his imagination were infinitely more detailed, more precise than anything I would ever see. He said to me once that one could never know anything except through desire, real desire, which was not the same thing as greed or lust; a pure, painful and primitive desire, a longing for everything that was not in oneself, a torment of the flesh, that carried one beyond the limit of one’s own mind to other times and other places, and even, if one was lucky, to a place where there was no border between oneself and one’s image in the mirror.
2. For Ila, the current was the real; it was as though she lived in a present which was like an airlock in a canal, shut away from the tidewaters of the past and the future by steel floodgates.
3. And so, as always, it was Ila- Ila of whom it was said when we were children, that she and I were so alike that I could have been her twin- it was that very Ila who baffled me yet again with mystery of difference.
4. Walking along the deserted avenue, I found myself crying, not so much in grief as anger that my parents had not informed me in time, so that i could be there when they cremated her. I climbed up the steep road that led to the monument on the Ridge, and sitting there, on the grass, i found my anger ebbing away. There seemed to be something fitting, after all, in the manner in which I had learnt of my grandmother’s death: she had always been too passionate a person to find real place in my tidy late- bourgeois world, the world that I had inherited, in which examinations were more important than death.
5. I would look at the advertisements for diamonds and jewellery in the British Sunday magazines, or i would read their accounts of film star romances and i would wonder why it so happens that it is in this state, the state we call love, that people are most driven to enumerate and quantify, when the state itself, or so those very magazines tell us, is the obverse, the antithesis, of the notions of number and quantity. I wonder what the circumstances could be that would prompt a man to tell a journalist exactly how much money he had spent, down tp the last pound or dollar, on buying a car or an island for the woman he loved; I would wonder why the advertisements hinted so carefully at the exact price of the jewellery they urged men to buy for their girlfriends, why a girl had attempted suicide exactly nine times to get back the man she loved, why I had been driven to count all the yards that I had walked when I went to see Ila. I could think of no answer, except that it is because that state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings- the idea of justice. It is only because love is so profoundly the enemy of justice that our minds, shrinking in horror from its true nature, try to tame it by uniting it with its opposite: it is though we say to ourselves- he bought her a diamond worth exactly so much, in the hope that if we apply all the metaphors of normality, that if we heap them high enough, we shall, in the end, to able to approximate that state metaphorically.
The lines sound poetic somehow. If you enjoy this writing style, pick up any Amitav Ghosh book and you’d love it!