Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh in 2017
Ghosh in 2017
Born (1956-07-11) 11 July 1956 (age 67)[1]
Calcutta (now Kolkata),
West Bengal, India
Alma materUniversity of Delhi (BA, MA)
University of Oxford (PhD)
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksThe Shadow Lines, The Glass Palace, Ibis trilogy, The Great Derangement
Notable awardsJnanpith Award
Sahitya Akademi Award
Ananda Puraskar
Dan David Prize
Padma Shri
SpouseDeborah Baker (wife)

Amitav Ghosh (born 11 July 1956)[1] is an Indian writer. He won the 54th Jnanpith award in 2018, India's highest literary honor. Ghosh's ambitious novels use complex narrative strategies to probe the nature of national and personal identity, particularly of the people of India and South Asia.[3] He has written historical fiction and also written non-fiction works discussing topics such as colonialism and climate change.

Ghosh studied at The Doon School, Dehradun, and earned a doctorate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford. He worked at the Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi and several academic institutions. His first novel The Circle of Reason was published in 1986, which he followed with later fictional works including The Shadow Lines and The Glass Palace. Between 2004 and 2015, he worked on the Ibis trilogy, which revolves around the build-up and implications of the First Opium War. His non-fiction work includes In an Antique Land and The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.

Ghosh holds two Lifetime Achievement awards and four honorary doctorates. In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India's highest honours, by the President of India. In 2010 he was a joint winner, along with Margaret Atwood of a Dan David prize, and 2011 he was awarded the Grand Prix of the Blue Metropolis festival in Montreal. He was the first English-language writer to receive the award. In 2019 Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the most important global thinkers of the preceding decade.[4]


Ghosh was born in Calcutta on 11 July 1956 and was educated at the all-boys boarding school The Doon School in Dehradun. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. His contemporaries at Doon included author Vikram Seth and historian Ram Guha.[5] While at school, he regularly contributed fiction and poetry to The Doon School Weekly (then edited by Seth) and founded the magazine History Times along with Guha.[6][7][8] After Doon, he received degrees from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, and Delhi School of Economics.

He then won the Inlaks Foundation scholarship to complete a D. Phil. in social anthropology at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, under the supervision of British social anthropologist Peter Lienhardt.[9] The thesis, undertaken in the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography, was entitled "Kinship in relation to economic and social organization in an Egyptian village community" and submitted in 1982.[10]

In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[11] In 2015 Ghosh was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow.[12]

He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government in 2007.[13]

Ghosh returned to India to begin working on the Ibis trilogy which includes Sea of Poppies (2008), River of Smoke (2011), and Flood of Fire (2015).

Ghosh lives in New York with his wife, Deborah Baker, author of the Laura Riding biography In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding (1993) and a senior editor at Little, Brown and Company. They have two children, Lila and Nayan.



Ghosh promoting River of Smoke in 2011.

Ghosh is the author of The Circle of Reason (his 1986 debut novel), The Shadow Lines (1988), The Calcutta Chromosome (1995), The Glass Palace (2000), The Hungry Tide (2004) and Gun Island (2019).[citation needed]

Ghosh began working on what became The Ibis trilogy in 2004.[14] Set in the 1830s, its story follows the build-up of the First Opium War across China and the Indian Ocean region.[15] Its first instalment Sea of Poppies (2008) was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.[16] This was followed by River of Smoke (2011) and the third, Flood of Fire (2015) completed the trilogy.[16][17]

The Shadow Lines that won him the Sahitya Akademi Award "throws light on the phenomenon of communal violence and the way its roots have spread deeply and widely in the collective psyche of the Indian subcontinent".[18] Most of his work deals with historical settings, especially in the Indian Ocean periphery. In an interview with Mahmood Kooria, he said:

"It was not intentional, but sometimes things are intentional without being intentional. Though it was never part of a planned venture and did not begin as a conscious project, I realise in hindsight that this is really what always interested me most: the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the connections and the cross-connections between these regions."[19]

Ghosh's Gun Island, published in 2019, deals with climate change and human migration, drew praise[20] from critics. According to a review in the Columbia Journal,

"This is Ghosh at his tenacious, exhausted best—marrying a mythical tale from his homeland with the plight of the human condition, all the while holding up a mirror to the country that he now calls home, as well as providing a perhaps too optimistic perspective on the future of our climate! "[21]

The novel creates a world of realistic fiction, challenging the agency of its readers to act upon the demands of the environment. The use of religion, magical realism, coincidences, and climate change come together to create a wholesome story of strife, trauma, adventure, and mystery. The reader takes on the journey to solve the story of The Gun Merchant and launches themselves into the destruction of nature and the effects of human actions. Ghosh transforms the novel through his main character, his story, and the very prevalent climate crisis. The novel is advertently a call to action intertwined in an entertaining plot. The Guardian however, noted Ghosh's tendency to go on tangents, calling it "a shaggy dog story" that "can take a very roundabout path towards reality, but it will get there in the end."[22]

In 2021, Ghosh published his first book in verse, Jungle Nama, which explores the Sundarbans legend of Bon Bibi.[23]


Ghosh's notable non-fiction writings are In an Antique Land (1992), Dancing in Cambodia and at Large in Burma (1998), Countdown (1999), and The Imam and the Indian (2002, a collection of essays on themes such as fundamentalism, the history of the novel, Egyptian culture, and literature.[citation needed] His writings appear in newspapers and magazines in India and abroad.[citation needed] In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016), Ghosh discussed modern literature and art as failing to adequately address climate change.[24]

In 2021, The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis was published. In it, Ghosh discussed the journey of nutmeg from its native Banda Islands to many other parts of the world, taking this as a lens through which to understand the historical influence of colonialism upon attitudes towards Indigenous cultures and environmental change.[25][26] In his latest work, Smoke and Ashes: A Writer's Journey Through Opium's Hidden Histories (2023), Ghosh presents his research on the history of opium. The history behind the First Opium War also serves as the background to his Ibis Trilogy (2008–12).[27]

Awards and recognition

Ghosh speaking at an event with Joni Adamson in 2017.

The Circle of Reason won the Prix Médicis étranger, one of France's top literary awards.[28] The Shadow Lines won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.[29] The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 1997.[30] Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.[31] It was the co-winner of the Vodafone Crossword Book Award in 2009, as well as co-winner of the 2010 Dan David Prize.[32] River of Smoke was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011. The government of India awarded him the civilian honour of Padma Shri in 2007.[33] He also received – together with Margaret Atwood – the Israeli Dan David Prize.[34]

Ghosh famously withdrew his novel The Glass Palace from consideration for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, where it was awarded the best novel in the Eurasian section, citing his objections to the term "commonwealth" and the unfairness of the English language requirement specified in the rules.[35]

Ghosh received the lifetime achievement award at Tata Literature Live, the Mumbai LitFest on 20 November 2016.[36] He was conferred the 54th Jnanpith award in December 2018 and is the first Indian writer in English to have been chosen for this honour.[37]


See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Ghosh, Amitav Archived 5 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ Gupte, Masoom (25 November 2016). "The heroic tale of great entrepreneurs is nonsense: Amitav Ghosh". The Economic Times. Archived from the original on 28 November 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  3. ^ "Britannica". Archived from the original on 6 September 2015.
  4. ^ "Amitav Ghosh : Biography". Archived from the original on 24 August 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  5. ^ Nicholas Wroe (23 May 2015). "Amitav Ghosh: 'There is now a vibrant literary world in India – it all began with Naipaul'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  6. ^ The Pioneer. "'Dosco' Amitav Ghosh celebrates his 60th Birthday". Archived from the original on 26 March 2019. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  7. ^ "Of nature, cricket, literature and history". The Statesman. 29 October 2017.
  8. ^ Ramachandra Guha (12 September 2013). "Ramachandra Guha on Twitter: "On the 25th anniversary of Amitav Ghosh's superb The Shadow Lines, a toast to History Times, the school magazine we worked on together."". Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  9. ^ "A scholarship worth going after". The Times of India. 17 January 2002. Archived from the original on 8 January 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  10. ^ Srivastava, Neelam, "Amitav Ghosh's enthographic fictions: Intertextual links between In An Antique Land and his doctoral thesis", Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 2001, Vol.36(2), pp.45-64.
  11. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  12. ^ "The Art of Change: Meet our visiting fellows". Ford Foundation. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  13. ^ "National Portal of India" (PDF). Retrieved 17 October 2008.[dead link]
  14. ^ Salam, Ziya Us (6 June 2015). "'The trilogy is over'". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  15. ^ "A Clash Of Civilizations: The Ibis Trilogy By Amitav Ghosh". Culture Trip. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  16. ^ a b Clark, Alex (5 June 2015). "Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh review – the final instalment of an extraordinary trilogy". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  17. ^ "'Flood of Fire' brings the astounding, exceptional 'Ibis Trilogy' to a close". Christian Science Monitor. 4 August 2015. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 20 October 2022.
  18. ^ rajnishmishravns (26 January 2013). "Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines as an Indian English Novel | rajnishmishravns". Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  19. ^ Mahmood Kooria (2012). "Between the Walls of Archives and Horizons of Imagination: An Interview with Amitav Ghosh". Itinerario, 36, p. 10 Archived 10 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Alam, Rumaan. "Review | The protagonist in this novel, Dinanath "Deen" Datta, is an antique and rare book collector who goes on a journey to realize the supernatural within his life. Datta travels from New York to India to Los Angeles to Venice in search of understanding an old Bengali folk tale of the "Gun Merchant" with his growing knowledge from his companions. Gun Island, in 2019, was named a Best Book of Fall by Vulture, Chicago Review of Books, and Amazon. With 'Gun Island,' Amitav Ghosh turns global crises into engaging fiction". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  21. ^ Sinha, Arushi Sinha and Arushi (16 November 2019). "Review: Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh". Columbia Journal. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  22. ^ Clark, Alex (5 June 2019). "Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh review – climate and culture in crisis". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  23. ^ Rakshit, Nobonita (8 October 2021). "Abstract Knowledge, Embodied Experience: Towards a Literary Fieldwork in the Humanities". Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities. 13 (3). doi:10.21659/rupkatha.v13n3.31. ISSN 0975-2935. S2CID 240006817.
  24. ^ "Easternisation by Gideon Rachman and The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh – review". the Guardian. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
  25. ^ "Amitav Ghosh's new book 'The Nutmeg's Curse' to release in October - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  26. ^ "Planetary crisis is a kind of bio-political war, akin to those of the past: Amitav Ghosh". The Hindu. 18 November 2021. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 5 February 2022.
  27. ^ "Nothing has worked against incredibly powerful agent opium: Amitav Ghosh". The Indian Express. 17 July 2023. Retrieved 19 July 2023.
  28. ^ "Amitav Ghosh re-emerges with Sea of Poppies". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 24 May 2008. Archived from the original on 7 October 2008.
  29. ^ "Amitav Ghosh". Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  30. ^ "Arthur C. Clarke Award |". Retrieved 28 May 2012.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ "First-timers Seeking Booker glory". BBC News. 9 September 2008. Archived from the original on 3 December 2009.
  32. ^ Laureates 2010 – 2010 Present – Literature: Rendition of the 20th Century – Amitav Ghosh Archived 18 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  34. ^ Editorial, Reuters (28 April 2010). "Amitav Ghosh joint winner of $1 million Israeli prize". Reuters. ((cite news)): |first= has generic name (help)
  35. ^ Wild West at the London Book Fair| The Guardian Archived 5 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ "Amitav Ghosh gets life-time achievement award at Lit Fest". Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  37. ^ "Author Amitav Ghosh honoured with 54h Jnanpith award". The Times of India. 14 December 2018. Retrieved 14 December 2018.