THE SHADOW LINES by Amitav Ghosh


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A multilayered family portrait set in Calcutta, London, and Dhaka. Ghosh sets aside the magic realism of his first novel (The Circle of Reason, 1986) to train his sights directly on the imagination and on the way it illuminates family myths. The transforming events explored by the narrator, a fervent Calcutta-born academic, all take place off-screen: they've been described by Tridib, the narrator's intoxicating older cousin; by his grandmother in the years before her death; and by a heavy-set British friend, May Price. Tridib re-creates WW II London for his wide-eyed cousin: "Tridib had given me worlds to travel in and he had given me eyes to see them with," the narrator recalls years later. His grandmother's longings to revisit her birthplace, Dhaka, were equally palpable. When her grandfather died, her father and his brother feuded and divided the crooked house down the middle. Throughout her childhood, the grandmother and her sister spun fantasies of "the upside down house," where the meals started with sweets and everyone slept under the beds. The grandmother discovers, in 1962, that her uncle, now ancient, is still alive and living in the house, protected from post-Partition violence by a sympathetic Muslim family. But it's only through May, who'd accompanied Tridib and the grandmother on their pilgrimage back, that the details surface of the riot in which Tridib was killed. The logic of the narrative is fascinating if chronologically confusing: one memory unfolds into another, as the narrator greedily patches it all into the rich crazy-quilt of his own identity. But while the effects are showy, the story is real: the people are compelling, and the ways that global events push into lovingly choreographed private lives are deftly delineated. In all, a revealing--and rewarding--excavation of a family's memory lodes.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1989
ISBN: 670-82633-2
Publisher: Viking
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