The Hungry Tide

The Hungry Tide Metaphors and Similes

“But her English, possibly because she spoke it so rarely, had survived like a fern suspended in amber…” (p. 109) (simile)

In this simile (a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as"), Kanai compares Nilima's English, which he rarely hears her speak, to a fern preserved by amber after he hears her use an outdated term. Just as a fern can be preserved for a vast length of time when it is trapped in amber (fossilized tree resin), Nilima's English has been preserved in the state it was in when she left metropolitan India and moved to the tide country, where few people speak English.

“And now, like some misplaced, misgendered Scheherezade, I am trying to stave the night off with a flying, fleeting pen…” (p. 124) (simile)

In this simile (and allusion), Nirmal compares himself to Scheherezade, the narrator of the collection of Arabic folk tales known as One Thousand and One Nights. In this work, Scheherezade continues telling stories in an attempt to delay her death. Similarly, Nirmal is trying to suspend time in order to let himself finish his notebook and explain the events of his life to Kanai. The mention of Scheherezade reinforces how educated Nirmal is in multiple cultural traditions—just as he's knowledgable about Marx and Rilke, he is familiar enough with Arabic legends to think of Scheherezade in his situation.

“The quiet was more like a fog or a mist, creeping in slowly, from a distance” (p. 128) (simile)

For Kanai, the silence doesn't "fall," is it's often said to in English. Instead, he uses this simile to express how gradually it occurs, just as a fog or mist appears over time rather than all at once. Because Kanai is a translator and fascinated by language, the discrepancy between the commonly used language and his own experience is notable to him.

"For if you compared it to the ways in which dolphin's echoes mirrored the world, speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another being." (p. 132) (metaphor)

In this metaphor (a comparison that does NOT use the words "like" or "as"), Piya likens human language to a "bag of tricks," seeing it as a futile illusion. Just as a bag of tricks may provide distraction or misunderstanding, human speech may seem to illuminate the feelings of experiences of others, but, Piya thinks, it is ultimately only a mirage. For Piya, the echolocation that dolphins use to communicate and experience the world is far more useful.

"She was like an orchid in a way, frail and beautiful and dependent on the love and labor of many, many people.” (p. 182) (simile)

Here, Piya compares her mother to an orchid, a flower that is known for its beauty but also for the difficulty of caring for it. Piya's mother suffered first from depression and then cancer, and just as an orchid depends on others' love and work to survive, Piya's mother did as well. The comparison is apt for Piya, who has training in science and uses the natural world as a reference point.