The Hungry Tide (2005) is the sixth novel by Indian-born author, Amitav Ghosh. It won the 2004 Hutch Crossword Book Award for Fiction.
The Hungry Tide tells a very contemporary story of adventure and unlikely love, identity and history, set in one of the most fascinating regions on the earth. Off the easternmost coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal, lies the immense labyrinth of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans. For settlers here, life is extremely precarious. Attacks by deadly tigers are common. Unrest and eviction are constant threats. Without warning, at any time, tidal floods rise and surge over the land, leaving devastation in their wake. In this place of vengeful beauty, the lives of three people from different worlds collide. Piyali Roy is a young marine biologist, of Indian descent but stubbornly American, in search of a rare, endangered river dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris. Her journey begins with a disaster, when she is thrown from a boat into crocodile-infested waters. Rescue comes in the form of a young, illiterate fisherman, Fokir. Although they have no language between them, Piya and Fokir are powerfully drawn to each other, sharing an uncanny instinct for the ways of the sea. 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 the three of them launch into the elaborate backwaters, they are drawn unawares into the hidden undercurrents of this isolated world, where political turmoil exacts a personal toll that is every bit as powerful as the ravaging tide. Already an international success, The Hungry Tide is a prophetic novel of remarkable insight, beauty, and humanity.
The Morichjhanpi massacre incident of 1978-79, when 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 novel explores topics like humanism and environmentalism, especially when they come into a conflict of interest with each other.
Amitav Ghosh is a writer of Postmodern fiction. His stories travel throughout time and space, creating an account that has an asymmetrical flow. In The Hungry Tide, he shuttles between the Morichjhanpi incident from Nirmal's point of view, and the present day travels of Piya Roy, Kanai and Fokir. This time-travel is vital to the story and created an intricacy of sub-topics and plots. Another trait of Ghosh that is continued in The Hungry Tide is the scrupulous research that allows a mixture of fiction and fact to the extent that they stand undifferentiated. Touching upon various topics from refugees, freedom and war, to life in the Sundarbans, the absence of language in communication, development, women trafficking and much more, he takes the reader through a whirlwind of events and emotions. He includes the myths of the people who are living in the Sundarbans to explain the nature of living in a country whose shape is determined by tide and weather. The myths are often presented like songs or with rhymes. This style creates different languages for nature, myth and people.