Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

Source: Goodreads
The Calcutta Chromosome
Amitav Ghosh
Originally 1995, I read 2009
320 pages, speculative, historical fiction

Fevers and Delirium 

What is the connection between a malaria-ridden Egyptian computer engineer in near-future New York, the Englishman who discovered the malaria parasite in Victorian Calcutta, and a young female reporter in 1995 Kolkata? This fascinating novel explores a web of investigations to discover the truth of a conspiracy theory about the discovery of the malaria parasite in a shadowy world where nothing is quite as it appears... or is it?

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The Ignorance of Understanding

Have you ever felt like you were on the brink of discovery, like you can see connections and all you have to do is think about it and it will all become clear? But then something appears and it disrupts your thoughts, and the picture no longer fits together as well as you thought. But still you think there are connections, somewhere... if you could just get a little more information....

Amitav Ghosh's novel plays with this place between understanding and ignorance. It's a page-turner with no satisfying conclusion, and that's the point. What is happening? How do the pieces fit together? Maybe the important thing is to realize that we, the readers, do not know. And maybe we don't have to. Who is Lokkhon, why can he change who he appears to be and what he does so readily? Is he a spirit, or a person, or a mad fantasy created by characters who, despite appearances, are truly all insane? How does Antar's malaria connect to this story? Was all of this planned or not?

In the end, it doesn't matter really. We know, and we don't know, and that's what we are supposed to learn from this book. Even when things begin to make sense they are not always what they seem. Things don't HAVE to make sense. And Amitav-da, in his impeccable writing style, demonstrates just that.

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