Book Review: ‘The Shadow Lines’ by Amitav Ghosh - A Beautiful Journey into Alternating Times of War and Peace

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“It is madness to think that knowing a language and reading a few books can create allegiances between people. Thoughts, books, ideas, words- if anything , they make you more alone, because they destroy whatever instinctive loyalties you may once have possessed.”

- Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

One of the many literary pieces on the tumultuous times leading to the partition of India, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Shadow Lines’ is an exemplary book, to say the least. The way the writer is able to let his readers travel through the present to the past and from the past to the present again is something you do not find in a lot of books. 


Name of the Book - The Shadow Lines

Author’s Name - Amitav Ghosh

Genre - Fiction

Language - English

Synopsis - Spoiler Alert!

Set against the backdrop of historical events like the Swadeshi Movement, The Second World War, Partition of India and Communal Riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka and Calcutta, the novel moves freely through space and time.

Amitav Ghosh’s young narrator freely travels across time with the help of the unreliable means of other people’s memories. But as he grows up, he discovers the horrors behind a seemingly random act of violence.

He tries to join bits and pieces of his memory to form a coherent story throughout the course of the novel, but is the story one he can live with? In this vivid, funny and moving classic of  Indian literature, the author depicts the absurd manner in which your home can become your enemy.

About the Author

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Born on 11th July, 1956, Amitav Ghosh is an Indian writer and quite an outstanding one at that. Best known for his works in English fiction, Amitav Ghosh brings out complex narrative strategies to probe the nature of national and personal identities.

Some of his famous works include ‘Sea of Poppies’, ‘The Glass Palace’, ‘The Hungry Tide’ and ‘The Circle of Reason’.Ghosh has been  awarded the 54th Jnanpith Award. His novel ‘The Shadow Lines’ was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award in 1990 and Ghosh received the title of Padma Shri in 2007 for his services to literature and education.

About the Book

The novel is written in two parts- ‘Going Away’ and ‘Coming Home’. It is the journey of the life of the young narrator, a boy born in Calcutta, who grows up to go and study in Delhi and then his later experiences in London, as a young adult.

But the story is not just that and this perhaps is the beauty of the novel. The young narrator weaves a web of multiple stories that are so intricately woven into each other that at times, it becomes difficult to keep up. 

The narrator’s family - The Dutta Choudhury’s and the Price Family are bound by a friendship that dates back to their ancestors. The young narrator adores his uncle Tridib because of his tremendous knowledge about things and places and also the stories he tells the young boy. But his grandmother is not Tridib's greatest fan and thinks that he is wasting away his life.

The narrator is attracted to Ila, his childhood friend but fails to put his feelings into words and finally loses her to Nick Price. The narrator’s grandmother has had a dreadful past and it is on a trip to Dhaka to re-discover her past, that they lose Tridib to an angry mob during the riots.

The book ends with the narrator finally coming to terms with every story that he has told the readers, especially the one relating to Tridib’s death.

Famous Quotes

  1. “I know nothing of this silence except that it lies outside the reach of my intelligence, beyond words - that is why this silence must win, must inevitably defeat me, because it is not a presence at all.”

  2. “That unthinkable, adult truth: that need is not transitive, that one may need without oneself being needed.”

  3. “I thought of how much they all wanted to be free; how they went mad wanting their freedom; I began to wonder whether it was I that was mad because I was happy to be bound; whether I was alone in knowing that I could not live without the clamour of the voices within me.”

The Bottom Line

The book is an excellent example of how good story-telling can engross its readers. Personally, I couldn’t put the book down once I started reading it. Then again, it might not be everyone’s favourite because some might find it boring.

But if you are someone who is looking to learn something while reading an amazing story that makes you feel so many things, ‘The Shadow Lines’ is the book for you. 

My Ratings for the Book - 4 on 5

Get Your Copy from Amazon at - The Shadow Lines

Written By - Sakshi Singh