cover image THE HUNGRY TIDE


Amitav Ghosh, . . Houghton Mifflin, $25 (333pp) ISBN 978-0-618-32997-7

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THE HUNGRY TIDE Amitav Ghosh . Houghton Mifflin , $25 (352p) ISBN 0-618-32997-8

One doesn't so much read Ghosh's masterful fifth novel as inhabit his characters and the alluring if treacherous Sundarban archipelago, "the ragged fringe of [India's] sari," where it is set. The author's nuanced descriptions of the moods and microenvironments of the islands serve as a lush backdrop for an intricate narrative that moves fluidly between past and present. Hoping to make her mark in the cetological world, Piyali Roy, an Indian-American marine biologist, travels across the Sundarbans in search of the once plentiful Irrawaddy dolphin. Piyali befriends both an illiterate fisherman, Fokir, who leads her to a dolphin-rich river enclave, and a successful interpreter, Kanai Dutt, who has arrived in the region from New Delhi to retrieve his deceased uncle Nirmal's journal. Through Nirmal, a Rilke-quoting former school headmaster and erstwhile revolutionary, Ghosh recounts the history of the islands with an unsentimental melancholy. Nirmal's account of the true story of the 1979 siege of Morichjhapi, in which destitute squatters were brutally evicted by the Indian government in order to preserve a wildlife sanctuary, poignantly displays the author's gift for traversing the fiction/nonfiction boundary. Ghosh (The Glass Palace , etc.), however, is uninterested in setting up simple good/evil binaries and instead weds the issues of love, language and land to the unfolding relationships among Piyali, Fokir and Kanai. The philosophical and moral implications of their actions remain simmering just below the surface. The climactic ending, in which a cyclone threatens the inhabitants of the Sundarbans, underscores Nirmal's observation that "nothing escapes the maw of the tides." Agent, Barney Karpfinger. (May)

Forecast: Following Ghosh's international bestseller The Glass Palace and set in a region of India recently much in the news because of the tsunami, this should do very well as the author's first title for Houghton Mifflin. Eight-city author tour; foreign rights sold in 12 countries.