''Gun Island'' by Amitav Ghosh
a new cli-fi novel reviewed in The Times of London
reviewed by Siobhan Murphy on June 7
Headlined: "Magic and Mangroves
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.
Dinanath Datta, known as Deen, is a seller of rare books living in New York City, who on a trip home to India humors an old aunt by taking a trip to the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove forest that lies on the Bay of Bengal.
Knowing his interest in Bengali folklore, she had entreated him to visit a shrine she remembered glimpsing there, dedicated to the ''Bonduki Sadagar,'' or The Gun Merchant.
Legend told how the Bonduki Sadagar was chased across strange lands by the snake goddess Manasa Devi, whom he had angered, meeting all manner of calamities until he was saved by a miraculous intervention of nature and returned home a rich man.
But his old friend Cinta, an Italian professor of history, believes in more supernatural causes and that stories from the past contain something “elemental and inexplicable” that can be unleashed.
Through her, Deen starts to see the parallels between the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar and our present day – how the 17th-century merchant’s world was being rocked by the climatic disturbances of the Little Ice Age, and how this ancient traveller’s voyage has much in common with those being made by the refugees flocking to Europe.
Flitting across continents, Ghosh deftly summons up a pungent sense of place, whether in the mangrove swamps of Bengal or the misty, cobbled streets of Venice. The past lurks convincingly in the present.
However, you can’t help feeling bashed over the head by all the talk of cyclones, wildfires, oceanic dead zones, dolphin beachings and flooding crises.
And with such a host of characters representing opinions or merely in place to move the plot along, the narrative, and particularly the dialogue, are often stilted.
As such, sadly, ''Gun Island'' is more a fusillade of
finger-wagging than a display of sniper-like precision.
Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh,