The Great Derangement: Climate change and the Unthinkable (Penguin Books, India) by Amitav Ghosh encompasses the stories, history and politics of climate change in a single volume. The deftness of storytelling employed by one of the giants of fiction writing of our time is on full display in this remarkable book on the imminent crisis that Planet Earth is facing today. Amitav Ghosh, the celebrated author expiates or in other word introspects on behalf of fellow writers by writing this extraordinary piece of non-fiction. Why does the master storyteller resort to non-fiction? The answer comes from the author himself: “Yet, it is a striking fact that when novelists do chose to write about climate change it is always outside of fiction.”
The author rues elsewhere in the book: “If certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failure will have to be counted as an aspect of broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of climate crisis.”
This era of collective failure of art and literature in negotiating with this existential threat will then come to be known by the future generation as the time of The Great Derangement, the author imagines. The book highlights the failure of collective imagination and lack of sense of urgency though the impact of climate change impact is visible all around us: “That climate change casts a much smaller shadow within the landscape of literary fiction than it does even in the public arena is not hard to establish.”
Ghosh said efforts to improve energy efficiency or substituting dirty fuels by solar or wind energy would bring about only incremental benefits: IE
The consumption patterns of the western countries and their lifestyles are completely at odds with the fight against climate change, author Amitav Ghosh has argued. Neither technology nor alternative sources of energy like solar or wind can ensure similar lifestyles to other people without completely jeopardising the earth’s future.
Ghosh’s latest book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, deals with, what he says is, the “most difficult issue that this world has ever faced”.
I started writing because someone was willing to pay me to do so. Otherwise I doubt I would’ve had the courage. Most of my first published works were commissioned and some of it ended up in performance. I still get paid, or invited, to write, and I use every such opportunity to say what I really need to say; to share a little of what’s banging and knocking around inside of me – all these questions that won’t go away. It’s still very, very scary, every single time.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I usually have a few things going on at a time, because letting it sit at the back of my head is part of my writing process. Right now there are three active projects: I am working on ‘The Never Mind Girl 2’ because there are still many questions that I need to ask there. Then, there is a children’s picture book that is somewhat dark but important, because it is very real. I’m hoping that the right illustrator will turn up. I am also very excited to be working with several people, including a very talented young musician, on a performance piece of poetry. It astonishes and delights me when I retell other people’s stories on their behalf and they seem happy with it and feel it represents them accurately. Especially as I reshape and tell it from my perspective.
Ghosh, 58, has recently finished a monumental project, the Ibis trilogy of books, which took him more than 10 years to write. For a decade he lived mainly in a parallel universe of his own creation, several centuries back in time. “I was in a deep, deep tunnel for years and years and years. I really didn’t have any time or any energy to give to anything else, apart from my family.”
Calcutta is the port from where Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel embarks on its journey but plays out on the high seas on route to China, which is the setting of the greater part of it, as it plunges into the First Opium War. The one question about Flood of Fire that Ghosh has been inundated with, repeatedly, from subsequent interviewers is whether the reader will see the same characters reappear or will they be replaced by others. Ghosh has indicated that the characters take on their own minds, emerging as a prominent player in one book maybe, while subsiding into a minor one in another, allowing for others to dominate in the next.
“One of the main characters in this book is Deeti’s brother, Kesri Singh, a havildar who has been mentioned a few times in the earlier books,” he reveals. And like the unfair question asked of a parent to name his or her favorite child, he has been badgered into naming his most loved character from all his creations which forms the crew of the Ibis. Most loved or not, it’s Neel Halder, who stands out. Recently, he called him his “Apu” in reply to a question by historian Sharmistha Gooptu. Like Satyajit Ray’s protagonist in the Apu trilogy based on Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay’s story, Neel doesn’t just run through all three stories but holds forth.