The new century is not even a decade old, but already has seen catacylsmic events and inspiring struggles for justice.
The September 11 terrorist attacks. The tsunami that swept across close to a dozen countries, leaving an unimaginable path of devastation and wreckage in its wake. The continuing struggle of the people of Myanmar to gain their freedom. The war in Iraq that began in March 2003 and has also led to practically incalculable damage.
While these happenings may not seem to have much in common, they are linked by being witnessed and/or commented on by Amitav Ghosh. His fantastic collection of essays, Incendiary Circumstances, covers his travels, experiences, reflections and meditations during a period of nearly 20 years.
Many thanks to dear friend and reader Evan Kaplan for yet another wonderful gift.
Evan, his wife Susan, who Dunreith met in pre-school, and their two daughters are spending the day with us in Rockport.
The essays largely move back in time, and Ghosh, who earned a doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford and is also a highly accomplished novelist, brings his keen eye and profound insights to all of them.
Whether talking about the Western novels his Indian grandfather collected and his uncle read-the collection was particularly deep in Nobel Prize winners-talking about being in India during the massacre of Sikhs by Hindu extremists after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, or writing about the events mentioned above, Ghosh shows a commitment to truth, a facility and elegance of language and, at times, a wickedly funny sense of humor.
Evan particularly enjoyed the piece about imprisoned freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi.
Although it was not my favorite, I learned from Ghosh’s depiction of her emergence from an academic living in exile in England in the early 80s to becoming the voice of her people in the late 80s, when she returned home following the death of her father, a famous general, to navigating the uneasy terrain of being out of house arrest.
Three of my favorites were Ghosh’s essay about meeting Pol Pot’s brother and sister-in-law in Cambodia, popular response in Egypt when Naghib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize and a description of the community of Egyptian emigres in Iraq.
While there were a couple of pieces I did not like quite as much as the others, I still maintain that this is indispensable reading from a gifted chronicler of the world’s many troubles during the past 20 years. I look forward to his novels and to other similar essays he produces in the future.