Amitav Ghosh confesses ‘Great Derangement’ was ‘auto-critique’

Amitav Ghosh, the Brooklyn-based public intellectual and author of a controversial book of global warming essays titled “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable” is in hot water now. After publishing his collection of essays in 2016 with the University of Chicago Press and aggressively pressing his case in the global media that modern novelists were not adequately addressing climate change in their novels or short stories, Ghosh now has confessed that he framed the book in a somewhat dishonest way, and that while he seemed to be criticizing 21st century novelists for not confronting climate change, he was merely engaging in what he calls an “auto-critique” of his own failings as a novelist who shied away from writing about climate change.

He hopes to set the record straight now with a new novel titled “Gun Island” that deals with climate change on a global scale.

While not a climate activist per se, Ghosh, who holds a PhD from Oxford, 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. Could it be that “Gun Island” is the globe-trotting novelist’s answer to himself and his critics and his own attempt to write a climate-themed novel?

Readers will find out in June 2019 when his novel is released in India and Britain. and then a few months later in September when it is released in New York and Rome.

Ghosh describes the novel as a story about a world wracked by climate change “in which creatures 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 says. “Look at these devastating typhoons and tornadoes, or the wildfires in Canada and California. These are deadly serious weather events and lived experiences.”

So two years after publishing “The Great Derangement” to great fanfare among literary scholars worldwide, Ghosh now in 2018 finally admits that the essays actually began as a sort of personal ”auto-critique,” challenging himself for failing to adequately tackle the issues of climate change in his own novels.

And he is hoping that “Gun Island” will rehabilitate his reputation among literary critics and climate activists.

Dr. Ghosh is one of the world’s top novelists writing in the English language today, and the India-born author of “The Ibis Trilogy” has the literary world waiting on pins and needles for his new 350-page novel to his bookstores worldwide.

Billed as climate-themed historical fiction set in several locations around the world, the book sure to please the author’s legions of fans in several countries. 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. 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 novel, his first in four years. Readers will have to wait for publication day in June to find out.

Meru Gokhale, editor-in-chief in the Literary Publishing unit of Penguin Random House India, who has read the book in manuscript form, said recently on her Twitter feed that “‘Gun Island’ is amazing — lively, humane, fast-paced, almost mystical, contemporary, utterly engaged.”

Meanwhile, a brief synopsis of the novel sets the scene this way: In Kolkata the main character of the novel named 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 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.

We’re then off on an extraordinary journey that takes 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.

Althought most of his fans don’t know it, there’s more to Dr Ghosh than first meets the eye. A self-admitted fan of some of Hollywood’s cli-fi disaster epics, such as ”The Day After Tomorrow” and ”Geostorm,” Ghosh says that that he enjoys those films.

“I love them! I watch them obsessively,” he told an interviewer in Canada, 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.”

What does the future hold for Amitav Ghosh? The answer may very lie within the lyrical pages of “Gun Island.”

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report.