The Shadow Lines: A review of the Major Experiment by Amitav Ghosh

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The shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

Publisher: Penguin Random House PVT India

Publication date: 22nd April 2009

Book-length -288

ISBN 10- 0143066560

ISBN 13-980143066569

Price- 350

“Everyone lives in a story…. because stories are all there to live in, it was just a question of which one you choose”.The Shadow Lines is a major experiment of Amitav Ghosh. He uses an anonymous narrator to create a bildungsroman where the boy-hero slowly weaves memories and reality together in a way that it creates an infinite bond between two continents and three countries. the boy-hero moves backward and forwards in time and bits and pieces of stories by breaking the chronological exploitation of time. The author keeps explaining his half-remembered and half-imagined thoughts until he comes to realize and understand the interconnected picture of the world where borders and boundaries mean nothing and are mere shadow lines that we draw dividing people and nations from each other physically and psychologically. Therefore, in this narrative, Ghosh asks an overwhelming question- which is woven into the title. Is there anything called the border that separates one man from another? Is the border artificially constructed?

About border, or shadow lines, Ghosh says: “ They had drawn their borders, believing in that pattern in the enchantment of lines, hoping perhaps that once they had etched their borders upon the map, the two bits of land would sail away from each other like the shifting tectonic plates of the prehistoric Gondwanaland. What had they felt, I wondered when they discovered that they had created not a separation, but a yet-discovered irony- the irony that killed Tridib”.

Structurally the novel has two parts. The first part is called ‘Going Away’ and the second one is ‘Coming Home’.Calcutta as the center there are several departures followed by sometimes pleasant and sometimes unpleasant returns. All these have been depicted through a cluster of memories by the narrator. The narrator’s consciousness becomes the center around which a web relation is woven, by using the stream of consciousness technique.

The characters in this novel blend memory and desire in such a way that it becomes difficult to separate the dream from the real, the memory from the fantasy. This trend is present in all characters like Tha’mma, Ila, Tridib, but the narrator Tha’mma and Ila are presented in contrast. Tridib is a bohemian character, who is the narrator’s hero and ideal above everybody in this novel. Tha’mma is an iron lady, Ila is also a vague character, and childhood crush of the narrator. As time goes character changes, reality changes.

The book is worth reading because it has a vivid depiction of the partition time, the riots, the broken heart, the unsatisfied desire, and every subtle element to fetch the reader to read the book. But I felt some parts of the book a bit monotonous and vaguely explained which makes the story uncomfortable to read. The author’s travel from the present to the past, reality to the imagination is a bit complicated. When the author was giving a description of May’s home, pictures, the world war, bullet holes on the wall in London, I had to pay extra attention and read those twice or thrice the time to under this as a whole. Otherwise, by the material, it is another masterpiece by Amitav Ghosh and a “must-read” book also.

Categories: book reviews