Review: Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh

May 7, 2013

Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Ravi Dayal Publishers
Year: 1988
Rating: ★★★½☆
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When I look at a novel as small as Shadow Lines, I instantly pick it up and do not expect much out of it. But I was here talking about the likes of Shadow Lines, not exactly about Shadow Lines. Despite being a short novel, Shadow Lines has broad and intricate ideas and stories interwoven in it.

Ghosh has touched upon the issues of nationalism, relevance of cosmopolitan culture, feminism, identity crisis and immigration through his characters from across four generations. He has told the ways to live through memories and travel through imagination. He has told the ways to cross the limits of time and space through memory and imagination.

The unnamed narrator, who idolizes his now-dead uncle Tridib, is always in search of an identity. He follows what Tridib had taught him- to travel through memory and imagination. But his grandmother thinks Tridib is a time waster and wants her grandson to be away from even Tridib’s shadow. On the other hand, the grandmother also had her fantasies during the pre- independence days. The narrator always has a feeling for his London based NRI cousin Ila, who is herself not very sure of who she is: a British or an Indian. May always finds herself guilty for what had happened, until the end of the novel.

Through this pool of these character and many more, Ghosh has touched upon the omni- present question: What are these Lines? These lines divide people across space and time but still, people cannot see these lines. These lines are in ‘shadows’. Yet the attempts are always made by people like Tridib and the narrator to cross these lines through their imagination. But even how relevant this fantasy is? Can it bring some change to the real world?

Despite these highly intellectual questions, if people are thinking it to be a political novel and thinking of turning it down, it is a mistake on their part. The stories spanning across generations and continents are very engaging and interesting. When you reach the end of the novel, you realize the potential of the novel, and, of course, the genius of Amitav Ghosh who deservedly won the Sahitya Akadami Puraskar for the novel. As you start reading Shadow Lines, you simply will not be able to stop but will keep turning the pages until you reach the beautiful and thoughtful end of the novel. 

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