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Between the sea and the plains of Bengal, on the easternmost coast of India, lies an immense archipelago of islands. Some are vast and some no larger than sandbars; some have lasted through recorded history while others have just washed into being. These are the Sundarbans. Here there are no borders to divide fresh water from salt, river from sea, even land from water. The settlers of the Sundarbans believe that anyone without a pure heart who ventures into the watery labyrinth will never return. Survival is an everyday battle for these people who have managed to strike a delicate balance with nature.
But the arrival of Piyali Roy, of Indian parentage but stubbornly American, and of Kanai Dutt, a sophisticated Delhi businessman, threatens to upset this balance. Kanai has returned to the islands on the request of his aunt, a local figure, for the first time since the death of his uncle, a political radical who died mysteriously in the aftermath of a local uprising. When Piya, who is on the track of the rare river dolphins, hires Fokir, an illiterate but proud local man to guide her through the backwaters, Kanai becomes her translator. From this moment, the tide begins to turn.
Amitav Ghosh has discovered another new territory, summoning a singular, fascinating place, another world, from its history and myth, and bringing it to life. Yet The Hungry Tide also explores another and far more unknowable jungle: the human spirit. It is a novel that asks at every turn: what man can take the true measure of another?