Though the book could be seen as a bildungsroman of the narrator, it is more like his personal odyssey. Its appeal lies in the simplicity of the manner in which mellifluous Ghosh writes. The language is rich and invigorating as it delves into the soul of humanity. The beauty of the novel lies in the fact that even the simplest of sentences are profoundly meaningful, which strike the readers without overwhelming them. While, at times it humours you with its comical mundane details, at others, it will make you cringe at the stark realism it presents. The best part about the novel is that it is neither judgemental nor didactic and lets the readers draw their own conclusions.
Apart from the raising questions about nation states, Amitav Ghosh also explores how communal riots flare up with conflicting identities and what all is destroyed in the mad violence. The violence though, is never explicitly described, yet its impact and its futility is fully felt. Ghosh paints a meticulous picture of common middle class life in India. Whether it be in the model notions about success in examinations or the general perceptions of poverty, the hatred towards the ‘other’( Pakistanis or Chinese in this case) or the strain of inter- religious friendships in times of communal riots, it’s the nuances that make the novel all the more interesting and totally spellbinding.
The novel was published first in 1988, four years after the riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assasination, the horror of which Ghosh had witnessed first-hand. One feels his urgency in the book to communicate the illogic behind such incidents.It won Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.
The novel is divided into two sections- ‘Going Away’ and ‘Coming Home’ which could be interpreted in many ways. The title of the novel is most apt. The border lines are present only in the shadow they cast and very few see the actual light of reason beyond them, that nations are nothing but ‘invented countries’.