”Gun Island” blends Bengali folklore, the historical and present-day links between India and Venice, climate change, the refugee crisis, the power of storytelling and the supernatural in a tale that sometimes wobbles under the weight of such a load, according to literary critic Siobhan Murphy, writing in The Times of London.
Nevertheless, she gives his new book a thumbs up in her review, saying after his earlier Ibis trilogy, which was a detailed imagining of the Opium Wars in Asia, Ghosh has now turned his hand to ”cli-fi.”
Other views in the UK Guardian and several Indian newspapers and magazines have cheered the new novel on, giving Ghosh high marks in a world where come hell or high water, humanity is facing, as the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has warned, ”an existential crisis.”
In the novel, we meet Mr. Datta, the narrator of the story and a stand-in for Dr Ghosh himself, who in the story is a rare books dealer living in New York City.
With a strong interest in Bengali folklore, Deen (as his nickname has it), visits a shrine dedicated to the ”Bonduki Sadagar,” or The Gun Merchant. Mysteries ensue. At this point the novel catches fire, under the direction of Ghosh’s masterful prose.
For example, strange events and coincidences and many venomous snakes and spiders shake the narrator’s faith in himself as what Ghosh characterizes as “a rational, secular, scientifically minded person”. Is this Dr Ghosh himself? Perhaps.
In the story the white-haired Brooklyn-based writer tells, in a very engaging and avuncular way, the reader is told about supernatural stories from the past that contain ideas that are “elemental and inexplicable.”
This is when Deen sees parallels between the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar and our present day of life in the Anthrocene with global media printing headline after headline of doom-laden fear-mongering panic news, even as American president Donald Trump stands up and says global warming is a Chinese hoax concocted in the bowels of Beijing.
So Ghosh’s worldly narrator takes it all in, the doomsday headlines and the fate of climate refugees and the refugee crisis in the in Italy and Greece and Mexico.
“However, you can’t help at times feeling bashed over the head by all the narrator’s talk of cyclones, wildfires, oceanic dead zones, dolphin beachings and flooding crises,” Murphy writes of the way Ghosh tells his 300-page story.
One reviewer in India said the book’s dialogues are vivid and enthralling, while a European critic said dialogues sometimes seem ”stilted.”
So is ”Gun Island” more of ”a fusillade of finger-wagging” than ”a display of sniper-like precision,” as British critic Murphy complains?
Readers worldwide will soon be making up their own minds, come hell and high water.