Ghosh’s latest (after Flood of Fire) is an intellectual romp that traces Bengali folklore, modern human trafficking, and the devastating effects of climate change across generations and countries. Dinanath Datta, who goes by the more Americanized Deen, is an antiques and rare-books dealer in Brooklyn. While in Calcutta, Deen encounters the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar, or the gun merchant, a localized riff on the familiar Bengali tale of a merchant and Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and poisonous creatures. Intrigued, Deen pays a visit to the Sundarbans, the borderlands from which the myth originated. At the shrine said to be protected by Manasa Devi, Deen encounters a snake that bites one of the young men with him, with nonfatal but mystical consequences. Shaken, but convinced that it was just a freak coincidence, the rationalist Deen returns to America, where his trip still haunts him. A tumultuous year and a half later, under the patronage of his dear friend Cinta, a glamorous Italian academic, Deen arrives in Venice for the book’s second half, where he befriends the local Bengali community and further uncovers the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar as he is drawn into relief efforts for the refugee crisis. Ghosh writes with deep intelligence and illuminating clarity about complex issues. This ambitious novel memorably draws connections among history, politics, and mythology. (Sept.)
"Gun Island deals with two of the biggest issues of the current moment: climate change and human migration. The confidence with which he shapes a good, old-fashioned diversion around these particular poles is instructive. . . . That Ghosh is able to sustain the book’s momentum when its primary inquiry is so cerebral is no mean feat... Gun Island is a novel for our times." Rumaan Alam, The Washington Post
"How can novelists address climate change without turning their books into seminars? Mr. Ghosh’s neat trick is to fold the subject into a juicy (if somewhat breathless) academic mystery of the sort popularized by Umberto Eco . . . The more puzzle pieces [Deen] fits together, the more chaos he revealswhich makes for an accurate depiction of the world as we know it." Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"A brave experiment in bringing climate change to action-adventure readers . . . Ghosh challenges the writers among us to remember that throughout history we have dealt with crises by telling ourselves stories." Melanie Finn, The New York Times Book Review
"[Gun Island] is an intellectual romp that traces Bengali folklore, modern human trafficking, and the devastating effects of climate change across generations and countries . . . Ghosh writes with deep intelligence and illuminating clarity about complex issues. This ambitious novel memorably draws connections among history, politics, and mythology." Publishers Weekly
"Ghosh seductively combines old-fashioned storytelling with keen research and a socially conscious sensibility to enthralling and piquantly enlightening affect." Booklist
"In the face of apocalyptic climate change, an Indian immigrant searches for the truth behind a Bengali legend . . . [Ghosh] blends elements of journalism, folklore, science, and history to describe a world on the verge of catastrophe . . . Involving and intricate, [Gun Island] speaks urgently to a time growing ever more perilous.” Kirkus
"A tender, attentive and engaging account of the ways in which an individual sensibility might be altered by ironies of history, chance alliances and climatological mutations . . . Gun Island is a rich and rewarding novel that reaffirms the transformative power of topographical and human connection, and registers the rhythms of the quiet and the unquiet life." Matthew Adams, The Spectator (London)
"Flitting across continents, Ghosh deftly summons up a pungent sense of place, whether in the mangrove swamps of Bengal or the misty, cobbled streets of Venice. The past lurks convincingly in the present." Siobhan Murphy, The Times (London)
"Amid the freak cyclones and oxygen-starved waters comes the story – or stories – of migration across the ages; tales of escapology, of deprivation and persecution, of impossible yearnings for a new world that bring us, inexorably, to the terrified refugees on the Mediterranean. Which is, perhaps, Ghosh’s essential point; a shaggy dog story can take a very roundabout path towards reality, but it will get there in the end. It has to, or we’re all doomed." Alex Clark, The Guardian (Book of the Day)
"A Bengali Da Vinci Code . . . Gun Island is a book of reckless and persuasive scope, a huge, rambunctious reckoning with our environmental declension. Ghosh draws strong parallels between human and animal displacement, as refugee boats and migrating whales meet in the ocean." Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Sunday Times (London)
"A novel that is as contemporary and compelling as can be . . . Ghosh has emerged in rude writing health from the 19th century world of opium trade. Taut and gripping, Gun Island is a parable for our times." Soumya Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times
“In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh, an important international writer, asked why writers avoid the foremost subject in our livesclimate change. In Gun Island it is unmistakably the central issue. With sweeping exuberant style and extraordinary linguistic facility, Ghosh takes us into a world where desperate refugees trickle through borders like water from melting ice, but where massing animals find no escapes. Old legends and ancient myths take on new meaning. The difficulties of characters in the Sundarbans begin to appear the world over as the climate becomes a forcing element. Our ordinary lives with air travel, cell phones, friends in distant places, smart-mouth teenagers, life insurance, money and investment concerns intersect with forest fire, flooding, storms. This important novel is an account of our current world, the one few writers have had the courage to face.” Annie Proulx, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
“Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island is an extraordinary reading experience from one of our greatest living storytellers. Ghosh masterfully collocates disparate worlds to create a story of family, self, history, and destiny. I'm in awe.” Neel Mukherjee, author of A State of Freedom
This latest novel from Ghosh (Flood of Fire) revolves loosely around the legend of the Bonduki Sadagar, or Gun Merchant, and his similarity to a character from Bengali folklore called Chand Sadagar. Both have encounters with Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes, as she tries to make the Gun Merchant her devotee. The protagonist and narrator of this work is Deen Datta, a dealer of rare books and Asian antiquities, who lives in Brooklyn but spends much of his time in India. With just days remaining for a return trip to New York, Deen is unexpectedly reconnected with a distant relative and gets swept up on a journey of his own, as he is also introduced to a potential love interest, Piya, a marine biologist. Deen also reconnects with Cinta, his renowned Venetian historian friend, who has a mysterious and tragic story of her own. As adventure and additional characters come into the mix, there are startling revelations of a human trafficking network between India and Italy. VERDICT Reality and illusion collide in this mythic, fluidly written work, which will appeal to readers who will appreciate being carried along by Ghosh's imaginative prose and occasionally disconnected story lines.[See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]—Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
In the face of apocalyptic climate change, an Indian immigrant searches for the truth behind a Bengali legend.
Deen Datta travels each year from Brooklyn, where he works as a dealer in rare books and Asian antiquities, to his native Calcutta, "or Kolkata, as it is now formally known," visiting family and scouting new purchases. As Ghosh's (Flood of Fire, 2015, etc.) novel opens, a smart-alecky relative tells him the tale of a Bengali folk hero called the Gun Merchant, whose story is rooted in a shrine in the Sundarbans, "a tiger-infested mangrove forest" at the mouth of the Ganges. Another relative, an elderly woman who grew up in the islands, has more stories to tell—and so does Piya Roy, a young, female marine biologist who is studying the effects of climate change on whales and dolphins, once abundant in the storm-lashed Sundarbans. Deen is a collector not just of old things, but also of interesting friends from all over the world, such as the Italian scholar Giacinta Schiavon, who makes an urgent case for taking folktales seriously as descriptions of the world and auguries of things to come, even as Deen protests that he is "a rational, secular, scientifically minded person." There is good reason to beware of signs and portents, for even as the Sundarbans disappear beneath the rising sea and cobras strike unwary victims, places like Los Angeles are falling before a wall of fire, "a glowing snake hurtling towards me, through the flames," while legions of displaced people are in flight, walking across continents, fleeing aboard boats "crowded with refugees." Much of Deen's story is a fictional rejoinder to Ghosh's 2016 polemic, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, and, as with that book, blends elements of journalism, folklore, science, and history to describe a world on the verge of catastrophe—and one in which people, in the end, have nowhere to go.
Ghosh's story, involving and intricate, speaks urgently to a time growing ever more perilous.