The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium & Discovery

By Amitav Ghosh

Perennial, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

I am an admirer of Amitav Ghosh, but when I learned he had written some kind of sci-fi, speculative fiction novel I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I learned that The Calcutta Chromosome had won the 1997 Arthur C. Clarke Award.

This book is a wild ride between the past and the future.  Antar, a researcher for the giant International Water Council, works from home using their AVA computer system.  His job?  To sit in front of a monitor and look at every item entered into the IWC inventory from all over the world.  Why?  Just in case there might be something unusual. It’s like sifting through sand on an archeological dig, you never know what you might find.  His identification of an object leads him to India, the impact of  British colonialism and the study of malaria.

Antar uncovers the stories of people from his past, the struggle between India’s ancient wisdom and Western science  and a vast medical conspiracy.  The novel flashes back and forth in time and between characters.  At times it feels like the shards of a broken mirror.  Ghosh’s characteristic use of detail, myth and storytelling hold it all together.

It was mid-July.  The monsoons had set in and the whole of eastern India was awash in rain.  Several of the famously restless rivers of the region had burst their banks and swept across the broad, flat plains.  Those waters, so full of menace to those they nourished, presented and entirely different aspect to a casual spectator in a train, watching from the safety of a tall embankment.  The still waters, lying in great silver sheets under the lowering monsoon skies, presented an enchanting, bewitching spectacle.  Phulboni, raised amidst the hills and forests of Orissa, had never seen anything like this before: this majestic, endless plain mirroring the turbulent heavens.  From page 257.

Just the fact that Antar works for something called the International Water Council is intriguing, fresh water being a finite resource that we are running out of, much like oil.  This alone drew me into reading the book. It is interesting and challenging,  I very much enjoyed it.

I admit it, I love Amitav Ghosh’s writing and his story-telling.  I can not wait for the follow-up to A Sea of Poppies.


Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Arthur C Clarke Award, Fiction, SpeculativeFiction

12 responses to “The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

  1. I can’t believe this book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award! I love Ghosh, but not this book! :–) But I’m glad you liked it – he really is a beautiful writer.

  2. seana

    I read this book some time ago and enjoyed it, but I have to admit that I really didn’t get the ending. Don’t really remember what that was now, but I know it needed more explaining.

  3. I want to read Ghosh, but think I’ll start with A Sea of Poppies.

    • The Sea of Poppies is brilliant, so is The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide! By the way, the lake looks lovely this time of year!

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  5. I’m trying to figure out in what order I want to read Amitav Ghosh’s backlist, when I get home at the end of the summer. This sounds like a good place to start–from what you say, it sounds like a good book but not his best, and that’s exactly what I want to begin with. Then I won’t be disappointed if the rest of his books fail to live up to Sea of Poppies. :p

  6. A bit of an inconlusive ending, don’t you think? More about this on my blog.

    • Thanks for your comment. I will check out your blog.

      • You’re welcome. :)
        Yesterday I googled ‘calcutta chromosome amitav ghosh’ and there was at least one blog on every page of results. The impact the book has made is quite amazing. And like rhapsody above, I too am amazed that this book won the Arthur C. Clarke award.

  7. mohit

    Must be an enjoyable read Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by “to read” list.

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