“The Shadow Lines” is a novel by Amitav Ghosh. It’s a multi-layered narrative that explores themes of memory, borders, and identity. Ghosh received the 1989 Sahitya Akademi Award for English Literature.

The story revolves around an unnamed narrator reflecting on his childhood memories and the interconnected lives of two families – one in Calcutta and the other in Dhaka. The narrative is not strictly linear, as it moves back and forth in time and place.

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Ravi Dayal Publishers

Publication date: 1988

In 1998, Shalini Topiwala translated the novel into Gujarati.

The novel is divided into two parts, ‘Going Away’ and ‘Coming Home,’ tracing the journey of a young boy raised in Calcutta. His educational pursuits lead him to Delhi and later to London, encapsulating his diverse experiences across these locations.

The story begins with the narrator’s fascination with his cousin, Tridib, who introduces him to stories about their family and historical events. Tridib, an intellectual figure, shares tales about his experiences in London and his thoughts on the partition of India. The narrator becomes deeply attached to Tridib.

The novel explores the relationships and connections between characters across generations. The lives of the two families become intertwined through friendships and relationships, blurring the lines between reality and memory. The narrator is particularly intrigued by the story of Mayadebi, a woman whose life is closely linked to both families.

The narrative shifts between Calcutta, Dhaka, and London, spanning decades and historical events such as the partition of India, communal tensions, and riots. The impact of these events on individuals and families is a central theme. As the story progresses, the narrator grapples with the complexities of identity, borders, and the role of memory in shaping one’s understanding of the world.

“The Shadow Lines” is deeply intertwined with historical events that significantly shaped the Indian subcontinent. The Swadeshi movement, which aimed at boycotting British goods and promoting Indian products, the upheaval caused by the Second World War, and the traumatic partition of India in 1947 are all pivotal moments reflected in the narrative.

Furthermore, the novel also delves into the communal tensions and riots of 1963-64 in Dhaka and Calcutta. These events not only serve as historical backdrops but also influence the lives and relationships of the characters in the story. The communal riots, in particular, add layers of complexity to the connections between the families in the novel and highlight the impact of political turmoil on personal lives.

Amitav Ghosh masterfully intertwines these historical events with personal narratives, illustrating how political upheavals and societal tensions shape the lives and identities of individuals. The backdrop of these significant historical moments adds depth and context to the broader themes of memory, borders, and identity explored in the novel. The book ends with the narrator reflecting on the interconnectedness of people and the influence of history on their lives, ultimately emphasizing the blurred lines between past and present, reality and memory.


Tridib: The protagonist, raised in a middle-class family, and the narrator’s uncle. He harbors feelings for May.

Tha’mma: The narrator’s grandmother, a disciplined and strong-willed former headmistress of a girls’ school in Calcutta. Her decision to bring Jethamoshai to India results in tragic consequences for him and Tridib in Dhaka.

Mayadebi: Tha’mma’s younger sister and Tridib’s mother.

May: A member of the Price family, in love with Tridib and blames herself for his demise.

Ila: The narrator’s cousin living in London. The narrator holds feelings for her, but she marries Nick.

Nick: Another member of the Price family, recognizable by his long blond hair. He aspires to work in the ‘futures industry’ and marries Ila. Later, suspicions arise regarding an alleged affair, and his employment in Kuwait ends under dubious circumstances.

The Educational Edition:

The educational edition of “The Shadow Lines” serves as a revised version of the original novel published by Oxford University Press in 1995, authored by Amitav Ghosh himself. This edition is accompanied by the complete novel and includes four critical essays elucidating and interpreting the themes of the book. The 4 critical essays in the book are as follows :

  • Maps and Mirrors: Co-ordinates of Meaning in The Shadow Lines: This is the first of the 4 essays and is written by Meenakshi Mukherjee.
  • Separation Anxiety: Growing up Inter/National in The Shadow Lines – Written by Suvir Kaul.
  • The Division of Experience in The Shadow Lines – Written by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan.
  • A Reading of The Shadow Lines – Written by A. N. Kaul.

The included critical essays delve into various aspects of the story, offering insightful explanations and analyses to facilitate a deeper understanding of the book’s meaning and themes.