Amitav Ghosh prepares 'Gun Island' for publication in 2019

Women and children at an internally displaced persons settlement 60km south of the town of Gode, in Ethiopia, reachable only along a dirt track through the desiccated landscape. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS
  • by Dan Bloom (taipei)
  • Monday, November 05, 2018
  • Inter Press Service

Billed as a 350-page cli-fi novel set in several locations around the world, it's historical fiction with a cli-fi theme this time. According to those who have had early peaks at the manuscript, "Gun Island" is about a descendant of a character named Neel who wants to learn more about his ancestry and who first appeared in the author's earlier trilogy.

The well-received ''Ibis trilogy'' was set in the first half of the 19th century and dealt with the opium trade between India and China that was run by the East India Company and the trafficking of coolies to Mauritius. The three books were titled "Sea of Poppies" (2008), "River of Smoke" (2011) and "Flood of Fire" (2015).

There really is a Gun Island off the coast of India, and according to book industry sources, that's where Ghosh ''might'' have taken the title for his much-anticipated new novel, his first in four years. Readers will have to wait for publication day in June 2019 to find out. The novel will appear first in India and Britain in early summer and later roll out in September in New York and Italy, according to Ghosh.

Amitav Ghosh. Credit: Gage Skidmore. Amitav Ghosh. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief in the Literary Publishing unit of Penguin Random House India, who has read the book in manuscript form, said on her Twitter feed that "Amitav Ghosh's new novel 'Gun Island' is amazing -- lively, humane, fast-paced, almost mystical, contemporary, utterly engaged."

Meanwhile, a brief online synopsis of the novel sets the scene this way: In Kolkata the main character of the novel named Dr. Anil Kumar Munshi meets, by complete chance, a distant relative named Kanai Dutt, who upends the scholar's view of the world with a single Hindi word: ''bundook'' (gun in English).

In the captivating story Ghosh tells within the 350-page novel, Munshi, a writer and a folklorist, at Dutt's suggestion realizes that his family legacy may have deeper roots than he imagined, in the tale of a merchant that Munshi had always understood to be the stuff of Bengali legend.

And we're off in a tale of an extraordinary journey will take readers from Kolkata to Venice and Sicily via a tangled route through the memories of those Munshi meets along the way. What emerges is an extraordinary portrait of a man groping toward a sense of what is happening around him, struggling to grasp, from within his accepted understanding of the world, the reality with which he is presented.

By the way, readers and literary critics around the world will be surprised to learn that the main charcater's name of Munshi is also a fictitious name that Ghosh uses on his personal blog -- "A.K. Munshi'' -- as a virtual pen name for Ghosh himself, which he has given to a ''virtual assistant'' who handles the novelist's reader and media email inquiries online.

The author of a book of essays in 2016 titled "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable," Ghosh, while not a climate activist per se has never-the-less found himself at the front lines of literary circles discussing the role of novels and movies that deal with global warming. In a way, "Gun Island" is the globe-trotting novelist's attempt to write a cli-fi novel.

A self-admitted fan of some of Hollywood's cli-fi disaster epics, such as ''The Day After Tomorrow'' and ''Geostorm,'' Ghosh recently told an interviewer that he enjoys those two films.

"I love them! I watch them obsessively," he said, adding: "My climate scientist friends joke and laugh at me for this because the practical science in a movie like 'The Day After Tomorrow' is bad. But I find these movies very compelling. And I do think both film and television are very forward-leaning in dealing with climate change."

As for his new novel, Ghosh describes it as a story about a world wracked by climate change "in which creature and beings of every kind have been torn loose from their accustomed homes by the catastrophic processes of displacement that are now unfolding across the Earth at an ever-increasing pace."

"Climate change is the most important crisis of our times and it's hitting us in the face every day," he told a reporter in Canada in an email exchange. "Look at these devastating typhoons and tornadoes, or the wildfires in Canada and California. These are deadly serious weather events and lived experiences.''

Two years after publishing "The Great Derangement" to great fanfare among literary scholars worldwide, Ghosh now admits that the essays began as a sort of personal ''auto-critique,'' challenging himself for failing to adequately tackle the issues of climate change in his own novels.

The result may very well be "Gun Island."

© Inter Press Service (2018) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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