The Shadow Lines: Representation of History and Memory


“Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.”

These oft quoted lines from Donne’s poem encapsulate the crux of Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Shadow Lines. Although placesAmitav Gosh, the writer of Shadow Lines ‘exist’ for some people and are ‘imagined’ by others, both are inventions; and this act of inventing entails not only the creation of worlds, but also the history of those worlds. These histories may or may not be in concurrence with those available in the records but that, in no way, can diminish the veracity of these histories.

Intimately connected with the attempts of historiography is the exercising of memory. In a way, each mnemonic effort is an attempt at historicizing and each recollecting individual is an amateur historian. The narrator in The Shadow Lines states, “People like my grandfather who have no home but in memory, learn to be skilled in the art of recollection”. So is Tridib and Ila. This idea, Fred Weinstein observes as a shift in the novel’s concerns vis-à-vis history and claims that unlike the earlier generation novelists, who did not like history or historians, the contemporary novelists have come to appreciate history. Several among them, however, seek to claim history for their own. The list is endless, starting from Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and continuing with Carlos Fuentes, Allan Sealy, Maxine Hong Kingston et al. (more…)

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