In an Antique Land by Amitav GhoshOnce upon a time an Indian writer named Amitav Ghosh set out to find an Indian slave, name unknown, who some seven hundred years before had traveled to the Middle East. The journey took him to a small village in Egypt, where medieval customs coexist with twentieth-century desires and discontents. But even as Ghosh sought to re-create the life of his Indian predecessor, he found himself immersed in those of his modern Egyptian neighbors.
Combining shrewd observations with painstaking historical research, Ghosh serves up skeptics and holy men, merchants and sorcerers. Some of these figures are real, some only imagined, but all emerge as vividly as the characters in a great novel. In an Antique Land is an inspired work that transcends genres as deftly as it does eras, weaving an entrancing and intoxicating spell.
Amitav Ghosh's sentiments behind Sea of Poppies
Amitav Ghosh – “In An Antique Land”
With serious concerns of a historian, Amitav Ghosh points out at the tragic turn of events in history of Asia and Middle East and particularly India. This book underlines the unarmed nature of Indian trade and commerce before the advent of Vasco-de-Gama in India. The author wants to bring to focus a forgotten period of history, which shows how free and liberal India's collaboration with the Arab, and the Chinese world was. He highlights the easy flow of human warmth and trust that existed between a Tunisian Jewish merchant and his Indian helper Bomma. The book is obviously a testimony to Ghosh's intense urge as a tireless, genuine researcher. In fact this book covers Ghosh's research as a social anthropologist over decades. It establishes Ghosh not just as a writer of fiction but also a keen traveler, a diligent researcher, a social anthropologist and a social historian.
The cover proclaims IAAL "History in the guise of a traveller's tale," and the multi-generic book moves back and forth between Ghosh's experience living in small villages and towns in the Nile Delta and his reconstruction of a Jewish trader and his slave's lives in the eleventh century from documents from the Cairo Geniza. In the s Amitav Ghosh moved into a converted chicken coop. It was on the roof of a house in Lataifa, a tiny village in Egypt. During the day he poured over medieval letters sent to India from Cairo by Arab merchants. In the evenings he shut out the bellowing of his fat landlord by turning up the volume of his transistor radio and wrote stories based on what he had seen in the village. The story of Khamees the Rat, the notorious impotent already twice married ; of Zaghloul the weaver determined to travel to India on a donkey; of one-eyed Mohammad, so obsessed with a girl that he spent nights kneeling outside her window to listen to the sound of her breathing; of Amm 'Taha, part-time witch, always ready to cast a spell for a little extra money; and, of course, the story of Amitav Ghosh himself, known in the village as the Indian doctor, the uncircumcised, cow-worshipping kaffir who would not convert to Islam.
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Mar 29, ISBN - Thank you! Enrolled as a cultural-anthropology graduate student at the University of Alexandria, Ghosh settled in into the Egyptian farming village of Lataifa.
The basic gist of the book is that Amitav Ghosh has been given some cash to pursue his PhD in social anthropology and, at a loss what to study, he comes across the mention of a slave in the letters of a Jewish businessmen living in Egypt in the 12th century. As a parallel to the story of his research, Amitav Ghosh relates anecdotes and musings about his life in a poor Egyptian village where he improves his colloquial Arabic necessary for deciphering old scripts and generally gets a better understanding of what the Middle East is all about. Fortunately, this makes up the bulk of the book and the academic bits can be skipped without missing much. Ghosh reveals himself to have an accomplished turn of phrase and a humble voice that lends itself to evoking the values and beliefs of a poor, peasant society. It makes the reader wonder why he attempted the dual narrative approach at all.
The book contains two narratives. The first, an anthropological narrative, revolves around two visits made by Ghosh to two villages in the Nile Delta , while he was writing his doctoral dissertation —81 and again a few years later In the second narrative, presented parallel to the first one in the book, Ghosh reconstructs the history of a 12th-century Jewish merchant, Abraham Ben Yiju, and his slaves Ashu and Bomma, using documents from the Cairo Geniza. In an Antique Land is considered to be a stylistically curious book. Written after the success of Ghosh's first two books, The Circle of Reason and The Shadow Lines , and written more than a decade after the dissertation on which the book is based, In an Antique Land defies easy description and has been called "generically indefinable" and could be labelled as "narrative, travel book, autobiographical piece, historical account".