The Hungry Tide

by Amitav Ghosh

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Hi, could you help me understand the structure of the novel? This doesn't include language, meaning, or point-of-view.

The structure of the novel includes its division into two parts, settings in two different time periods, and alternating sub-genres and narrators within those parts. In both parts, the main time is contemporary with its writing, the turn of the 21st century, but a significant portion takes place during the late 1970s. The portion set around 2000 features a third-person narrator, while the portion set earlier uses an epistolary form that features one character’s journal entries.

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The structure of The Hungry Tide features three different, but interrelated kinds of divisions. The entire novel is divided into two parts, consistent with the tide featured in the title: “The Ebb: Bhata” and “The Flood: Jowar.” As it begins, the novel (which was published in 2004) seems to be set around 2000, but it later becomes apparent that a significant portion takes place about 30 years earlier, in the late 1970s. In the portion set around 2000, the author uses a third-person narrator, enabling him to provide the perspectives of many different characters. Significantly, one young man, Kamai, is reading a journal written by his deceased uncle, Nirmal. The portion of the novel set in the 1970s, the author uses the epistolary form. This term refers to the use of diaries or letters as storytelling. In this case, the author alternates chapters that consist of Nirmal’s journal entries from 1979.

In the early 21st-century portion, a plot involving Piya, a cetologist (marine mammal scientist), provides the initial rationale for setting the novel in the Sundarban islands. She and Kamai meet in the first few pages. As the novel progresses, the connections between the characters living in the different periods are gradually revealed. The writings of Nirmal, who had been politically active, play a key role in presenting the region’s history within the broader context of the history of India and Bangladesh. The complex structure supports the ways that the author connects the thematic ebb and flow of nationalism, ethnicity, and violence to the natural phenomena of tides and storms.

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