Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island’ Is A Tour De Force Of Our Times

In his earlier works, Amitav Ghosh wondered why the whole world faced the threat of climate change but one hardly finds any piece of creative writing around it. His latest novel Gun Island while inter-textually speaking to all his other works, frontally deals with the huge apocalypse awaiting humanity.

The protagonist is part of a dying profession – a rare book dealer, which according to him, is a dampener in the dating scene. Facing the humiliation of being ghosted by his girlfriend in the States, he decides to spend his vacation in Kolkata, his hometown. There, another ghost awaits him quite inadvertently – the ghost of Bonduki Saudagar or the gun merchant.

Knowing his quaint interest in things long gone by, one of his relatives who runs a social service organisation in the remote Sundarbans contacts him with a plea – to visit the temple for the Goddess of Serpents, Manasa Devi, built by the gun merchant in the middle of nowhere in the salty marshlands of Sundarbans. The Goddess of venomous creatures and her reluctant worshiper thus enters this universe.

He decides to take the trip only because he senses an attraction for the ecologist Piya who is staying with his older relative. Egged on by a possible erotic encounter, he intuitively jumps into the wildness of Sundarbans. What follows is a mad journey where fate of the present humans intertwines with the fate of the earlier humans who threaded this earth.

The 17th century commingles with the huge changes brought about in the 21st-century; movement of huge populations itself being a primary reason for climate change. The earth tries to speak up through a series of calamities and creatures – some changing their natural courses and habitats, some committing mass suicide in desperation, some allowing themselves to be sighted as warnings to other creatures like humans.

In this racy novel, centuries flow into each other, as spaces separated by seas and creatures do – as they did before, in the Indian Ocean trade routes. The political questions of the contemporary find their roots in the past which leave signs like puzzles for the present. Ghosh has, as usual, used a large canvas, however, this time, not just encompassing the human, but the non-human as well.

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