The framework of Amitav Ghosh's lush new novel, The Hungry Tide, set in the richly storied Sundarbans off the easternmost coast of India, is not so much a love triangle as a love parallelogram. In one corner is Kanai Dutt, a cocky, self-satisfied Delhi businessman, who is returning to the rural island home of his aunt, where he spent a formative childhood summer. Kanai's uncle Nirmal, who vanished years before during a political uprising on a nearby island, left Kanai a journal, which his aunt has just found. On the way there, Kanai meets Piya Roy, an American marine biologist of Indian descent, who has come to the area to study a rare species of dolphin that inhabits the tidal waters of the Sundarbans. When a disagreement with her official river guide lands Piya in the drink, she's rescued by local fisherman Fokir. Fokir can't read or write, but his knowledge of the river and its inhabitants, particularly the dolphins Piya seeks, is invaluable to her research. She also finds herself physically drawn to the stoic young man. Meanwhile, back at his aunt's community hospital, Kanai is busy flirting with Fokir's ambitious, education-hungry wife, Moyna, whose intellectual potential Kanai feels has been unjustly thwarted by her marriage to a simple fisherman. To further complicate matters, his uncle's revelations about Kusum, Fokir's mother and Kanai's childhood friend, and the political uprising in which they were both involved sets a pattern that is later echoed by Kanai, Piya, Fokir and Moyna. But the cross-purpose love interests are merely a framework sketched across a richly layered background that interweaves the region's volatile political climate, environmental issues, history and mythology. In this ever-shifting territory, where the hardscrabble residents eke out a living under the dual threat of man-eating tigers and devastating storms, nothing is certain. Everything Kanai and Piya think they know proves to be as unreliable as the ground itself, washed away by the changing tides.

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