“All I try to do is write about the world as I see it”: Amitav Ghosh on his new book, his inspirations and his hopes for the future of literature

In 2007, Amitav Ghosh released his famous novel, The Glass Palace, of consideration for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, citing his objection to the use of the term “community” and the colonial history associated with it as the reason for its withdrawal. Throughout his career, the award-winning writer has observed the world around him with a very critical eye and has translated these observations into various novels and non-fiction works, the most recent of which is The curse of nutmeg: parables for a planet in crisis (published by Penguin India), which explores the genocidal violence committed by the Dutch East India Company in the Banda Islands.

The book asserts that our shared colonial history is the architect of the modern climate crisis and points to the discovery of sea routes in the Indian Ocean as the catalytic event, which drove shipments of exploitative Western colonizers straight to land rich in oil. resources. Ghosh uses nutmeg as an allegory of the forces that have exacerbated current climatic conditions, highlighting how human history has, from time immemorial, been shaped by the fate of resources such as spices, opium and sugar cane. According to him, humans’ mechanistic and resource-driven worldview is the reason the natural environment has been deprived of the respect and care it deserves.

Of particular note is the effortless manner in which Ghosh is able to grapple with the parallels between the colonial conquests of the past and today’s capitalist thirst for profit. Both movements are characterized by their willingness to abandon human and ecological interests in their quest for resources. Making those connections between the past and the present, “took a tremendous amount of research,” Ghosh tells me on Zoom, in a conversation that covers the current climate crisis, Ghosh’s roots as a journalist, and his greatest literary inspirations. contemporary and historical.

Adverse weather

In 2016, Ghosh published an editorial in the New York Times titled “What Nutmeg Can Tell Us About Nafta”, which served as the precursor to its new title and saw the popular condiment take center stage, retracing the ways in which the West’s thirst for this spice and others has led to the conquest and exploitation of both humans and the natural environment. “My reflection on these things goes back further [than the NYT article] to another of my books, the Ibis Trilogy. In the Ibis trilogy, I spent a lot of time thinking about opium, the opium wars and the role that played in the history of India, ”he says.

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