This article is also available in: Italiano
“Gun Island” by Amitav Ghosh is a book that, through a story of puns and linguistic influences, will be able to make us reflect on globalization and climate refugees
Dealer of rare books and antiques, Deen Datta lives and works in Brooklyn, but was born in Bengal, the land of sailors and fishermen. There was therefore no time in his childhood when the legends that flourished in the shifting mudflats of his country, fascinating tales of merchants fleeing across the sea to escape terrible and avenging goddesses, were not part of the fantasy world of him. On one of his returns to Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is called today, Deen has the good fortune to meet Kanai Dutt, a distant, talkative and vain relative who, to challenge him on the ground of his knowledge of Bengali folklore, tells him the story of Bonduki Sadagar , which in the Bengali or Bangla language means “gun dealer”. Bonduki Sadagar was, he tells him, a wealthy merchant who had infuriated Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and every other poisonous creature, by refusing to become his devotee. Plagued by snakes and haunted by floods, famines, storms and other calamities, he fled, finding shelter across the sea in a land called Bonduk-dwip, “Gun Island.”
Finally, hunted down again by Manasa Devi, to appease his anger, he had been forced to have a dhaam erected, a temple in his honor in the Sundarban, in the mangrove forests infested with tigers and snakes. The legend of the rifle merchant would remain such for Deen, a simple story, that is, to be kept in the closet of childhood memories, if the vain Kanai did not add that his aunt Nilima Bose saw the temple and would be delighted if Deen l ‘went to see. Thus begins, for the Brooklyn rare book dealer, an extraordinary journey in the footsteps of Bonduki Sadagar who from the Sundarban, the frontier where trade and wild nature look into each other’s eyes, the exact point where the war between profit and Nature, will take him from India to Los Angeles, to Venice. An amazing journey, which will cross centuries and lands, and in which ancient legends and myths acquire a new meaning in a world like ours, where the war between profit and Nature now seems to leave no way out beyond the seas.
Sundarban and climate change
I bought this book several years ago because I absolutely wanted to start reading some Bengali authors, people who have given many illustrious people to humanity, but still little known in our country. The Sundarban, then, are an extremely fascinating place that fascinated me from the first moment thanks to its mysterious waters and its vegetation that still rebels against human expansion, hiding all sorts of incredible animals.
Unfortunately, however, precisely in this novel we are shown the effects of climate change on the region, a phenomenon that affects both the environment and, consequently, animals and inhabitants. In fact, very often we tend to underestimate the impact that a slight change in temperature and / or salinity of the water can have, elements which, however, have primary consequences on the ecosystem, so much so as to completely distort it. These transformations have not only an “environmental” aspect, but also a practical and humanitarian one, which, in a globalized world like ours, cannot in any way be underestimated. In fact, the novel brings us into contact with the stories of many climate refugees, placing this particular figure at the center of the scene, who is often neither discussed nor discussed; they are in fact those who do not flee their country because they are oppressed but because, precisely because of climate change, there are no longer the conditions to live. Even for this element alone, Amitav Ghosh’s novel (written and printed in 2019) is more current than ever and unfortunately able to give us clues about a future that is all too close.
Unfortunately I cannot go into detail to avoid spoilers, but, among the books I have recently read, “L’isola dei rifili” is without a shadow of a doubt one of those that most of all play with words, transforming them into a real own pivot and turning point of the story. The legend of the rifle merchant can in fact be read both as a Bengali fable and asa real journey made centuries and centuries ago, everything will depend on how you read some Bangla words.
This narrative gimmick will allow us to penetrate a minimum into the rich linguistic universe of Bengal, making us understand a minimum of those infinite connections that still indissolubly bind India and the Middle East today. Linguistic nuances capable of making us discover how the phenomenon of globalization is not something born in the 1900s, but has origins that are linked to the history of humanity itself.
“Gun Island” is a book that, thanks to a beautiful, delicate and at times fairytale style, manages to make us reflect on current and future phenomena in a simple, clear and immediate way; a novel able to make you spend moments of extreme relaxation while allowing you to develop your mind and sensitivity.
Final spoiler: Italy will be the protagonist and Salvini will also appear (albeit not directly mentioned).
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