Monday, 31 May 2010

Revisting and retelling history

Amitav Ghosh has a talent for description. He describes in a way that makes me feel like I was right there, looking, watching, hearing. It's the quality I loved about Hungry Tide - I could use that book as a tour guide when I do make it to the Sundarbans. In an Antique Land also has that power. It makes me want to get up, go explore, see a new city beyond what tourists see.

It moves between the 1980s and the 1100s, smoothly; the Egypt of the Jews interwoven with the Egypt of Muslims.It encompasses two countries - India and Egypt - and examines the layers of their relationship with each other - the demands of politics and economics bringing them together, the differences in culture setting them apart. The discourse of three religions that have been in constant conflict in modern times - Islam, Judaism and Hinduism - throws up a synthesis that the modern mind would not imagine.

Through the story of a Jewish merchant and his slave and the Author's quest to decipher their lives, Ghosh shows how history is constructed and how we ourselves never examine the stories that build our interactions and notions of other communities. It is a fascinating journey of discovering little told or remembered stories, the kind that make you think that you too will be a part of history someday. It is a story that makes you realize that most of history is outside the textbooks, hidden in memories and tales

The book is slow, and there are no heroes - much like real life. It is a slow re examination of ingrained notions and its pace is as determined by the reader as by the author.

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