BOOK: Gun Island
AUTHOR: Amitav Ghosh
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Temperatures reach a record high of 54°C in Death Valley. Wildfires rage once more in California. Four-thousand-year-old ice collapses into the Arctic Ocean – nearly half of the last fully intact ice shelf gone within a couple of days. Heavy monsoon rains lead again to devastating floods in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, impacting millions of people and putting the region on the brink of humanitarian crisis. What’s this got to do with fiction? According to author Amitav Ghosh, a great deal. In his 2016 non-fiction book The Great Derangement, Indian author Amitav Ghosh writes that climate change is a crisis of culture and a crisis of imagination. He provocatively argues that literature is failing to grapple with climate change, an omission that future generations may well find morally reprehensible.
The fourth book in the LAX LAB climate fiction book club is the novel Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh. If the realism of the climate crisis is too much for authors and readers to bear, Ghosh suggests through this work that mythology and the fantastical may be a viable alternative. In Gun Island we meet Deen Datta, a dealer of rare books in Brooklyn. On a visit to his hometown Kolkata, Deen becomes reacquainted with the old legend of gun merchant Bonduki Sadagar. Through Deen, we travel from Brooklyn to Kolkata to Los Angeles and Venice, meet snakes and goddesses, and are plunged into a world of mystery, adventure, and Bengali folklore.
The novel speaks to the connectedness of our world, how our relationships to space and time are intertwined with the carbon economy. Through this imaginative narrative emerges insight on the climate crisis, refugees and human migration, the forces of nature, and how old legends might help us confront and re-imagine the challenges of our present situation and precarious future.
Folklore and mythology
Articles, essays, and other non-fiction
'Pilot whales Tasmania: Almost 400 die in Australia's worst stranding'
BBC NEWS, 23 September 2020
‘Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh review – climate and culture in crisis’
Alex Clark, The Guardian, 5 June 2019
'COVID collides with weather disasters to affect millions worldwide'
Thomas Frank, Scientific American, 25 September 2020
'California wildfires erupt from wine country to Los Angeles, damaging Santa Rosa and displacing thousands'
Andrew Freedman, The Washington Post, 29 September 2020
‘Death Valley just recorded the hottest temperature on Earth’
Concepción de León and John Schwartz, The New York Times, 17 August 2020
The Great Derangement: Climate change and the unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh
'Collapsed Arctic ice shelf adds 'exclamation point' to dire climate trends, say scientists'
Hannah Paulson, CBC News, 7 August 2020
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Tales of India: Folk Tales from Bengal, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu by Svabhu Kohli, illustrated by Viplov Singh
Music and other audio
Indian Chill (Spotify playlist)
Evergreen (2018) by Calcutta