For ‘Gun Island’ author, the inevitable is irresistible

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav GhoshIvo van der Bent

In his new book, “Gun Island,” acclaimed writer Amitav Ghosh returns to fiction to tell the story of a rare book collector forced on to an epic journey from India to Los Angeles. Ghosh’s last book was “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” and he is best known for The Ibis Trilogy, which includes “Sea of Poppies.” That novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Indian by birth, Ghosh lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the biographer and book editor Deborah Baker. “Gun Island” was published this past week. Ghosh will present the book on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre, presented by Harvard Book Store. Tickets start at $6 and are available here.

BOOKS: What are you reading?


GHOSH: I just finished reading Nathaniel Rich’s “Losing Earth: A Recent History.” It’s very good. It’s about how in 1979 there was a concerted effort to do something about climate change and how lobbyists and politicians thwarted that.

BOOKS: Do you read a lot about climate change?

GHOSH: Absolutely. Once you start informing yourself about it it’s impossible to stop. I was talking to Annie Proulx, and she said the same thing.

BOOKS: What other books on climate change would you recommend?

GHOSH: An obvious candidate is David Wallace-Wells’s “The Uninhabitable Earth.” It’s a very good introduction to climate change. Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” is also an excellent introduction. I tend to read new books, for example Roy Scranton’s memoir “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.” He fought in Iraq in the US Army. He draws on that experience to understand the consequences of climate change for himself and his loved ones.

BOOKS: What fiction have you been reading?

GHOSH: I just finished reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “The Forest of Enchantments,” which comes out this month. It’s a lovely retelling of one of the Indian epics, the Ramayana, from the heroine’s point of view.


BOOKS: When you were younger which Indian author did you read?

GHOSH: V.S. Naipaul, who is of Indian origin. His brother Shiva Naipaul was also a great writer. He died quite young, so he’s not as well known. Then there was Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who is better known in the US as the screenwriter for all the Merchant-Ivory films. In India she is better known as a novelist.

BOOKS: Did you grow up in a house full of books?

GHOSH: Very much so. My parents were great readers. My mother went for a lot of classics, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and some rather unexpected books, like the Sardininian writer Grazia Deledda, who won the Noble Prize for Literature but is kind of forgotten now. The other day I picked up her book “The Mother.” It’s very powerful and interesting.

BOOKS: Do you have a favorite novelist?

GHOSH: I return constantly to Herman Melville. I think he’s the greatest novelist of all. “Moby-Dick” is a constant source of inspiration. I must have first read the novel in my teens but I think it was in my mid 20s when I began to read it more closely. My daughter had to read it at 14 or 15, and I think that’s too early to understand it. So often, prescribed texts [in school] put you off of authors for life. That was what happened with Thomas Hardy and me. I read “Far From the Madding Crowd” in high school. The atmosphere of the book just repelled me in a way I can’t account for.


BOOKS: Who are the contemporary novelists you read the most?

GHOSH: Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Powers. I follow Annie Proulx’s work. Toni Morrison’s work was hugely important. James Baldwin had a big impact on me in my teens and 20s. I started with “Notes of a Native Son.” In the India of my youth it wasn’t easy to get a hold of international books. India was poor and there wasn’t a large book market. We had to buy secondhand books or go to the library, like the American Library. In the ’70s, the American Library didn’t have Baldwin because he was too radical.

BOOKS: Do you collect books like the protagonist in your new novel?

GHOSH: No, quite the contrary. We are constantly putting books on the stoop here in Brooklyn. People seem to appreciate it because the books are always gone.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane.’’ She can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.