The Hungry Tide is a 2004 fictional novel written by Amitav Ghosh. Set in the Sundarbans, it tells the story of Piyali Roy, an Indian-born marine biologist from Seattle who comes to the islands in order to conduct a study about the rare Irrawaddy dolphins. On the way, she meets a local fisherman by the name of Fokir, who saves her life and helps her with her research. Even though Piya doesn't speak Bengali and Fokir doesn't speak English, they still manage to find a way to communicate and to understand each other.
In this context, Ghosh uses language as an indirect symbol of Piya's discovery that culture, tradition, and religion are not always in contrast with science. Piya never bothered to learn her native language because it reminded her of her parents' arguments. Thus, Ghosh also uses language to represent Piya's complex emotional state as well as her willingness to finally accept and embrace her origin.
Another noteworthy symbol is the rare Irrawaddy dolphin or, rather, Piya's search for it. The journey to find and study the dolphins symbolizes Piya's journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
The mangroves indirectly symbolize all of life's hardships and difficulties; in order to overcome them, one has to be patient, resilient, determined, calm, and at peace with oneself.
The cyclone is a symbol of the potential risks that people might encounter when they decide to explore the unknown and unfamiliar as well as the challenges they might face when they knowingly or unknowingly begin the search for identity. Ghosh wishes to tell his readers that no matter how prepared we think we are or how much we think we know, life will always find a way to surprise us.
Finally, an interesting symbol is the "hungry tide" itself. It represents both change and the power of nature. By the end of the novel, Piya is a changed woman; she realizes that nature is an unstoppable force that can create and destroy life. She realizes that all social, physical, and even emotional boundaries are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and that all she has to do in order to experience true freedom is to try to understand and accept herself and her identity and let nature take its course.