The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: Book Cover Designs

It is here, there is a point at which the braid comes undone, when Lord Shiva’s matted hair is washed apart into vast, knotted tangle. Once past this point, the river throws off its bindings and separates into hundreds, maybe thousands of tangled strands.

In ‘The Hungry Tide’, Amitav Ghosh takes you to one of the most picturesque parts of India – Sundarbans. Published in 2004, the book was a recipient of the Hutch Crossword Book Award for fiction.

The story begins with Kanai, a translator and interpreter from Delhi and Piya, a young Cetologist (a biologist who specializes in marine animal) from America traveling by train to the Sundarbans. Kanai has to meet Nilima, his aunt living in Lusibari, situated on one of the islands in the Sundarbans. There is a packet awaiting Kanai, a diary written by Nilima’s deceased husband Nirmal. Nirmal’s death about twenty years ago amalgamates Morichhijhapi uprising into the story. The violent incident of Morichhijhapi happened in 1979 but the book restricts it to Nirmal’s perspective of the incident on power struggle between the government and the people over forest rights.

Piya is visiting the Sundarbans to study the Orcella, the snubfin dolphins. Her arrangement with the local forest officials ends in an unfortunate tiff and she topples off the boat. From here, begins the unusual relationship between her and Fokir, the fisherman in the boat who saves her. This illiterate, emaciated, poor fisherman holds more knowledge of the local environment and wildlife than the forest officials or researchers. A knowledge mocked by his poverty and inability to suffice the needs of his family.

The most mesmerizing feature of ‘The Hungry Tide’ is in its setting in the Sundarbans, a mangrove in the delta formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers on the eastern part of India. (A lesser-explored literary turf) And, once you finish the book, this fragile ecosystem prone to cyclones and with harsh living conditions will stay with you for the longest. I see why the book covers stick with the pattern of mangroves, water, and the small boat with a fisherman as a reference to the Sundarbans.

Among the first edition book covers, there is one with a woman’s face on the cover. I think a reference to Piya. Probably, Piya the American Indian from the book was supposed to have a wider appeal for the international readers. This cover reminded me of the ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ by Jhumpa Lahiri. Do you also see a similarity there?

Then there is the artistic depiction of a tiger’s belly and paws on the cover from the 2005 edition. The man-eater tiger makes an appearance at a juncture which turns the book to a philosophical plane. And, adding a bit of the local legend with ‘Bon Bibi‘, the Goddess protecting humans from man-eater tigers. The cover and the scene in the book did hint me at the ‘Life of Pi’ atmosphere. I was glad to read the perspective of valuing wildlife at the stake of human life in these desolate poor regions.

“It happens every week that people are killed by tigers. How about the horror of that? If there were killings on that scale anywhere else on earth it would be called a genocide, and yet here it goes almost unremarked: these killings are never reported, never written about in the papers.”

In an Interview, Amitav Ghosh said, “When I was writing The Hungry Tide, I would often think to myself: will the act of writing this novel make this forest real? Will it give it an imaginative life? I do think to some degree it has done that. If you compare what was written about the Sundarbans before and after The Hungry Tide, you’ll see a difference. I think it is just this: a narrative makes it possible for people to perceive and think about places, and moments in time, that were previously unseen or invisible.”

If you would like to read a review on ‘The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh’ please click HERE!

18 thoughts on “The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: Book Cover Designs

  1. This is the first novel that I read of Amitav Ghosh. Believe it or not but I have fallen for the book. The vivid description that he has included in his book has marvelled me. I could connect to the characters,the scenery,the unsaid conversations between Fokir and Piya,the multi-layered emotions. Looking forward to read another book by him “The Calcutta Chromosome”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely…my first book of Amitav Ghosh was The Glass Palace and I have been in love with his writings ever since. Even though ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’ is not his best, it was his writing that kept me going.
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. I learnt of him through his Booker nomination for Sea Of Poppies. Sadly, that remains the only read for me from among his works.

    I was listening to his interview on a podcast around the start of this month in which he talked about the themes he uses in this book, The Great Derangement, and Gun Island. Also, Piya is in Gun Island too!
    I love the first and the second covers here.

    Another fantastic post. 👏👏

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I sm so reading this book. Loved the green cover more. Amitav Ghosh is also one of the authors in TOI Write India and I really wanted to get hold of his books. Thankyou for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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