The shadow lines by Amitav Ghosh is a collection of memories, memories of an unnamed narrator. He goes from his experiences as a little boy in Calcutta to a young man doing his PhD in London. Throughout the book we get to know about various incidents of the narrator’s life, they come and go like the wind, one moment you feel a soft, soothing breeze gliding over your face, and the next moment you feel as if a strong blow from a storm is carrying you away to a place unknown. All these incidents revolve around three main characters: the narrator, his uncle Tridib and his Grandmother Tha’mma. Tridib is one of the main characters of the novel, from the beginning of the novel the narrator’s fondness towards Tridib is evident. Tridib influences him, his decisions, and ultimately his life. From an early age Tridib opens the gates of imagination for the narrator. He sees the world through Tridib’s eyes and forms an image of different places of the world in his mind. The book is filled with the juxtaposition of a happy middle-class family against riot filled city, of a cold-hearted grandmother against a painful past of migration and lost home, of the idea of freedom and war and peace, of land separated by lines and nations far away which are mirror images of one another.
It is a well-established fact that Amitav Ghosh is a gifted writer and a phenomenal storyteller, his signature style of writing leaves the reader numb. Here Ghosh eloquently paints a picture of a heterogeneous global world. A world that was and is being divided by ‘sensible’ men who draw enchanted lines to set the people free. Ghosh asserts that boundaries are never the solution – neither do boundaries ensure collective and individual stability, end of violence, hostility, subsequent psychological problems, and nor do they erase the love, commonness, and the unity that was once shared by the people of an undivided land.
The message is strongly political, Ghosh questions the concept of the nation-state, the notion of state love, and how it is so alien to the idea of justice. His writing is real, moving, and heartbreaking which is unbearable at times but towards the end, this book will leave you with a mind full of thoughts and questions. A delightful read.
“People like my grandmother, who have no home but in memory, learn to be very skilled in the art of recollection.”
― Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines