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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Shadow Lines
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on 26 September 2008
For any novel, but especially for a first novel, this is an extraordinary achievement. Dealing in history, human frailty, the lenses of memory and self deception, the sources of identity and belonging: this is a brief epic which is never grandiose, and always close to human experience.

The inner world of the narrator is so pitch perfect it hurts. You can feel him growing, and the people around him too. Each and every personality in it is startlingly realised. The narrative forces its way on, covering a great emotional range. The style is impeccable - restrained, precise and beautiful or harsh and the situation demands.

I suppose that no one reading this review will believe quite how good The Shadow Lines is - and apparently his other books don't quite reach the same standard. This, however, is a great, neglected work of modern literature.
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on 25 June 2013
Being shortlisted for the Booker prize for "Sea of Poppies" was long-overdue recognition for this great writer. In this, his second novel, Ghosh traces the interlinked lives of an extended family in Calcutta and an English family who lived in India before Partition. Moving in time between pre-World War II Dhaka, blitz-affected London, 1950s and 1960s Calcutta, and 1970s London, it looks at the lives of its characters and the circumstances they find themselves in through the eyes of its narrator as he grows from a child to an adult. I puzzled over the title: was it a reference to Joseph Conrad's "The Shadow Line", his novella about the line between youth and adulthood? If it is, then this novel is about several lines that separate: those between branches of a family, between nations, between religious communities, but also about remembering and forgetting. The pivotal moment of the book recalls his great memoir, "In an Antique Land", in that it reveals that what we take for granted -- here divisions between Hindus and Muslims -- are not all they have come to be believed to be. This is not just entertainment; like the best writing, it makes you reconsider what you think you already know. If you haven't read any of his books, then I urge you to do so. And this is as good a place as any to begin.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 July 2012
The Shadow Line is the second novel by Indian author, Amitav Ghosh. It is set in Calcutta, London and Dhaka, and tells the story of a Bengali and an English family and their involvement over some eighty years. Told as seen through the eyes of the narrator, whose name we never learn (perhaps this says something of his place in the story: to observe), the story opens in 1960 when he is just eight years old, and traces events that impacted on the family from the start of World War II to the late 1970s. Whilst this is ultimately a tragic tale which shows how international events can affect the population at an intimate level, the perspective of the young narrator makes for plenty of humour as well. The narrator's adulation for his older cousin, Tridib, and his infatuation with his cousin Ila, as well as his love for, and occasional exasperation with, his grandmother, all bring the characters to sparkling life. That the narrator could describe events where he was not present because he had absorbed the tales told and retold by others and made them his own, was a device I thought both clever and novel. "I could not persuade her that a place does not merely exist, that it has to be invented in one's imagination; that her practical, bustling London was no less invented than mine, neither more nor less true, only very far apart." In a background of the Partition of India and Pakistan and later the creation of Bangladesh, the observations about borders (Shadow Lines) are particularly pertinent: "It's all very well, you're going away now, but suppose when you get there they decide to draw another line somewhere? What will you do then? Where will you move to?" A compelling story, beautifully told.
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on 16 July 2005
The Shadow lines is not what it appears to be. But as one slowly moves through this story spanning generations and continents, one feels a familiar old pull within. that of memory, identity, which in this ever changing world is constantly in a flux. The protagonist is a boy who grows up admiring his cousin Tridib, who with the power of words (and maps) enlivens this little boy's life. Tridib shares a bond with May, his father's English friend's daughter. Meanwhile, our protagonist too grows up listening to his cousin Ila's tales from all over the world, thanks to her IFS officer.
Between all these complex relationship is grandmother, who lives in nostlagia of that enchanted childhood she had in Dhaka before partition. The book moves slowly beautifully and conflict makes the incision at the right points. The complex web of relationships, of love, honour, friendship is cruelly broken when riots break out.
Beautifully written, the book gives a fresh perspective to those who have faced political conflicts
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on 28 May 2015
It is not often that I make a mistake buying a book but this time I have. I gave up after thirty pages. I did not have a clue what was going on. There is no unity of time or place, people come in to the narrative from nowhere and being based on an Indian family, there are scores of them. It is impossible to even know what era these people are from. One paragraph you are reading about the narrator being in conversation in a London pub, then immediately in the next you go back decades. Time blurs, people have no meaning. Hard work and hopeless.
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on 4 December 2012
This story opens in Calcutta in the 1960s. A young boy lives with his parents and his Grandmother. The young boy is drawn to the exotic, which for him is his extended family who have travelled to London, who know people in London. His inner life centres on a world that, fed by stories, he knows only in his imagination.

As the novel progresses, more members of the extended family appear and more links are drawn between London and Calcutta. Sometimes it is a bit difficult to follow - there aren't many family members, but somehow I found it difficult to keep track of where they fitted in - a small family tree might have helped.

The style is dreamy, understated and retrospective. It says 'wistful' on the backcover of my copy, so don't expect a lot of action.

Would I recommend it? Yes and no. I was fascinated by the vision of England as created by a young Indian boy in the 1960s, but ultimately it I feel it falls into a 'literary fiction' slot that isn't really my cup of tea. I'm glad that I have read it, but won't be passing it around my friends.
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on 13 June 2014
I needed an immediate access to the book for writing an academic paper. I just logged on, bought and there it was for me to read,almost instantly. I can instantly get access wherever I need it, doesn't occupy space or gather dust. It is amazing. [Wish there was a Search facility and Index to the Kindle, that'll help for easy citation, otherwise great!)

Also, someone told me there is a biography at the end of the original print edition. I couldn't find that in my Kindle version. Wonder if she was mistaken...
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on 28 December 2015
I haven't had time to read it yet. I have now read a large number of novels by Amitav Ghosh and they never disappoint. I was lucky enough to hear him reading from the last volume of The Ibis Trilogy at the Oxford literary festival in the spring.
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on 1 August 2014
an excellent read ... the fascinating characters really come to life as we journey through their joys and sorrows in this epic tale of fear, flight, love and death - brilliant!
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on 26 April 2014
Ghosh is an excellent writer. This book is set in Calcutta and London and weaves a very interesting story involving both of these locations. I recommend it.
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