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Author:
• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Amitav Ghosh was born in 1956 into a middle-class Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, India, to a lieutenant colonel father and a housewife mother. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received a B.A. degree in 1976 and an M.A. degree in 1978 from the University of Delhi followed by a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1982. As well as working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Ghosh also taught at the University of Delhi, the American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City and Queens College in New York.

Amitav Ghosh is a novelist, an essayist and a non-fiction writer. He has received prestigious awards including the Prix Médicis étranger, The Padma Shri, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Frankfurt International e-Book Award and he has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The Shadow Lines, Ghosh’s second novel, published in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.

Ghosh is now a full-time writer. He lives between the USA and India with his wife Deborah Baker,
who is a biographer, an essayist and a senior editor at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house in the USA. The couple have two children.

The Shadow Lines is set against a historical background that moves back and forth from the second world war in England to the nineteen-sixties in India, leading to the eighties and interwoven with the fictitious lives of the characters. The author tackles a specific theme: the power of memory, the art of remembering almost everything and how one can travel, virtually, to various places through one’s memories. The writer brings together, through the main nameless character, various periods of time and series of events experienced by generations of the family and friends in Calcutta, Dhaka and London.

Events start decades before the narrator’s birth and end on the eve of his return from London to Delhi. After becoming a mature young man and after studying in London for one year, he comes to terms with the fact that there is no longer hope of having his beautiful cousin, Ila, share his love now that she is married to Nick and madly in love with him despite their misfitted marriage. Before leaving London the narrator also finds out from May, Tridib’s lover and Mrs Price’s daughter, the truth about the mysterious death of his elder cousin and mentor, Tridib, while visiting Dhaka during the Bangladeshi revolt.

Tridib is a great story-teller, through his tales of London and various other topics like “Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of Garcia Lorca, there seem to be no end to things he could talk about”, make everything real for his younger cousin. Both cousins are gifted with vivid memories, an acute sense of perception of the past as well as a strong desire to learn new things to feed their imagination. Additionally, the narrator’s grandmother, through her many stories about Dhaka, where she was born before settling in Calcutta, has “no home but in her memory” and she makes the narrator feel as if he was there with her.

The narrator realises, while sitting on the edge of a camp bed in the cellar back in Raibajar with his beloved cousin, Ila, surrounded by objects that carry a lot of memories, like ghosts of time, that “they were not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance – for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time”.

The Shadow Lines is a compassionate, powerfully moving novel in many ways. Ghosh masterfully expresses his thoughts in his eloquent writing. His characters are well depicted in an interesting, vast array of individuality. The narrator is a passionately imaginative recorder of the events and lives of people around him. The young Tridib is an idle, avid, multifarious intellectual. Ila is portrayed as a spoiled, beautiful young bohemian seeking complete freedom in her new world and although born an upper-class Indian, feels devoid of identity. Tha’mma’s husband dies when she is thirty two years old and in order to survive, she works for twenty seven years as a schoolmistress in Calcutta. She is hard working and authoritarian unlike her only sister, Mayadebi, who is richly married and referred to ironically as “Queen Victoria” by her elder sister. There is also the very old friends of Tridib’s family, Mrs Price, and her two children, May and Nick.

The violence in Dhaka and Calcutta described subtly by Ghosh and shown as incomprehensible and aberrant brutality, as in the violent death of the innocent Tridib, sadly still exists today in many other places of the world, e.g. in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel, Yemen and Bahrain. In his novel, Ghosh describes shadow lines that create a seemingly unbridgeable gap producing bloodshed. These lines leave their shadows wherever they happen to be. They are irrationally man-made in order to divide people and separate countries artificially. While wars, religions, partitions and violence alienate people and nations, at least the power of memory combined with imagination keeps them united.

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Author:
• Friday, September 27th, 2013

Luanne Rice, the eldest of three daughters, was born in 1955 in New Britain, Connecticut into an Irish catholic family. Her father was a typewriter salesman and her mother an English teacher.

After finishing high school education, Rice studied History of Art at Connecticut College but wasn’t able to continue her studies further because her father’s grave illness obliged her to seek work.

Rice’s first poem was published in The Hartford Courant newspaper when she was just eleven years old and her first short story in American Girl Magazine at the early age of fifteen.

Luanne’s debut novel, Angels All Over Town, was published in 1985. Since then, writing became a full time job for her. She is a prolific writer with her novels having been translated into several languages and some of them made into films, TV mini-series and theatre productions. She is the New York Times’ best selling author.

Rice is a dedicated ecologist and a nature lover. She has written essays on migrating birds, oceans and offshore drilling. She is also devoted to helping women victims of domestic violence. In 2002 she received an honorary degree as Bachelor of Humane Letters from Connecticut College.

Rice travelled all over France and elsewhere in Europe when she lived in Paris for two years. After her mother died from a brain tumour, she returned to France and made a pilgrimage to the Camargue. She was bewitched by the green marshes and the magical landscape which inspired her to write her novel Light of the Moon.

She now lives with her second husband between New York, Old Lyme (Connecticut) and Southern California.

After grieving the loss of her mother and a long, unhappy love relationship with her colleague, Ian Stewart, Susannah Connoly, the Connecticut based skilled anthropologist, is encouraged by her mentor, Helen Oakes, to take two weeks holiday in Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in the French Camargue. Going to this part of the world would also fulfil the wish of Susannah’s deceased mother who wanted her to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in order to see Saint Sarah’s shrine which was responsible for her birth. Susannah’s mother was yearning to have a child after many years of marriage. Her wish came true after visiting Saint Sarah and praying to her.

The story of Light of the Moon is set in this stunningly beautiful part of the south of France, la Camargue, with its lush marshes, wild white horses and wild black bulls. The author even takes her readers for an underwater dive into a unique prehistoric sea cave at Cap Morgiou (Marseille), which was discovered in 1991 by the French professional diver, Henri Cosquer.

With her painstaking attention to detail, describing the splendid surroundings of this part of France, the author transports her readers there. One can smell the salty marshes, hear the Mistral wind blowing, feel drenched by the heavy rain and under the spell of a charmingly romantic silvery moon. In this novel, nature is an important well portrayed character.

Another interesting theme developed in the novel are the historical traditions and beliefs of the Romany and Gypsy people and their devotion to their mythic patron saint, Sarah (Sara-la-Kali). Every 24th of May they come from everywhere to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer to venerate their patron saint and have a great celebration with school children carrying a banner in the procession, while “the band would play and the equestrian team would ride in formation”.

The chosen setting for the novel is magnificent and the history of Romany and gypsy communities is interesting but unfortunately, the author didn’t expand more on the subject despite the length of the novel. Same for the characters who are not well developed. Regrettably, the romance between Susannah and the handsome Grey Dempsey, the American journalist who became a ranch owner after marrying an attractive gypsy, is mawkish, unoriginal and contrived. Some passages are monotonously repetitive which creates boredom and a sense of déjà-vu.

Alas, despite the ground being fertile, the harvest has failed to deliver.

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