In Ghosh we trust

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Amitav Ghosh | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Amitav Ghosh’s novels are a tapestry of history and richly imagined characters, woven together with journalistic precision and a keen eye for hidden connections. Each story transports readers to vivid realms, leaving them entranced. He will be at the MBIFL to speak on ‘Stories of the more-than-human: fiction in an age of planetary crisis’.

This theme is at the heart of his recent book, ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse’, a beautifully woven work of history, essay, testimony and polemic in which Ghosh explains our planetary crisis as the culmination of events that began with the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean. The book is a haunting reminder of the Dutch Empire’s merciless exploitation of nutmeg in the Banda archipelago in the 17th century, serving as a metaphor for the larger planetary catastrophe, rooted in the colonial geopolitical order established by the West. Ghosh skillfully weaves together the history of various botanical substances — spices, tea, sugarcane, opium and fossil fuels — to illustrate the continuous link between human history and the earth’s materials

As the world faces the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, Ghosh sheds new light on these crises by connecting them to the colonial extractive mindset, which is at the root of the deep-seated inequality prevalent today. Through his masterful narrative, Ghosh critiques Western society and unveils the profound impact of non-human forces on human history, delving into subjects such as the global oil trade, the migrant crisis, the hyper militarization of the U.S. and the animist spirituality of indigenous communities worldwide.

Ghosh’s first novel, ‘The Circle of Reason’ (1986), follows an Indian protagonist who, suspected of being a terrorist, leaves India for Northern Africa and the Middle East. ‘The Shadow Lines’ (1988) is a sweeping history of two families (one Indian and the other English) that are deeply shaped by events following the departure of the British from India in 1947. Ghosh’s first foray into science fiction was ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’ (1995), an alternative history of the discovery of the malaria parasite. His other notable novels include ‘The Glass Palace’ (2000), set in Burma and ‘The Hungry Tide’ (2004), set in Bengal.

‘Sea of Poppies’ (2009) marked a departure from Ghosh’s earlier experimental writing style and is the first book of the Ibis trilogy, which also includes ‘River of Smoke’ (2011) and ‘Flood of Fire’ (2015). His novel, ‘Gun Island’ (2019) is about a rare-book dealer and his journey to confront issues of his past and climate change. Ghosh also wrote ‘In an Antique Land’ (1992), a book combining travel writing, autobiography and memoir genres. Ghosh’s novels have been widely praised for their ability to weave together history, fiction and current events in a thought-provoking and engaging way.

As he takes the stage at the MBIFL to speak on ‘Stories of the more-than-human: fiction in an age of planetary crisis’, one may expect him to continue to challenge readers’ perspectives and inspire them to think deeply about the world around them.

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