Amitav Ghosh is the only contemporary Indian author I have any respect for. This novel is a masterpiece. Having said that, the first thing that I can point out is that though the author is Bengali and the novel set in the delta of Sundarbans; at no point does a non-Bengali reader feel left out of flow. That is one thing that I love about some writers.
Piyali Roy is a young marine biologist of Indian descent, in search of a rare, endangered river dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris. Fate bumps this non-Bengali-speaking-American into a young, illiterate fisherman, Fokir. Although they have no language between them, Piya and Fokir are drawn to each other, sharing the rhythm of the waters and nature between them. Piya engages Fokir to help with her research and finds a translator in Kanai Dutt, a businessman from Delhi whose idealistic aunt and uncle are longtime settlers in the Sundarbans.
As these three traverse the delta, narration switches between the past and the present. The writing shows the intense research on the part of the author. The Morichjhanpi massacre incident of 1978-79, when the government of West Bengal forcibly evicted thousands of Bengali refugees who had settled on the island, forms a background for some parts of the novel.
The reader is led through themes of nature, travelling, love, history, environmental concerns, human trafficking. The narrative doesn’t slack, the pace doesn’t fall. This is a brilliant book.
Quote: “Age teaches you to recognize the signs of death. You do not see them suddenly; you become aware of them very slowly over a period of many many years.”