Is Global Warming the 21st Century’s Black Death?

Our inability to combat climate change is a type of demonic possession: We are unable to turn away from our phones, our cars, our comfy sybaritic lives, even though we know the consequences of our behavior.

Facts don’t work against demons, but what about faith or fable?

Ghosh challenges the writers among us to remember that throughout history we have dealt with crises by telling ourselves stories. Climate change might be our successor to the Black Death: We may have to use all our inventive ability, rational and magical, to think our way out of it.

Review of Amitav Ghosh’s GUN ISLAND, by Melanie Finn

I feel completely convinced that we have to change our fictional practices in order to deal with the world that we’re in.

Amitav Ghosh
Gun Island, by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh, 63, is attempting to add something to the conversation with “Gun Island,” his 12th book. The novel, which comes out Tuesday, leaps from the United States, to the Sundarbans mangrove forest between India and Bangladesh, to Italy, places where rising temperatures and water levels have uprooted human and animal lives and upended political systems.

At one point in “Gun Island,” Deen arrives in Los Angeles for an antiquarian book dealers conference at a museum. Wildfires burn nearby. The conference, at first, goes on. But soon, the bibliophiles, librarians and book dealers are told to evacuate because the winds are changing direction, making the blaze’s path increasingly unpredictable.

It seems to mirror when fires came perilously close to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2017, raising concerns they would destroy the artifacts inside. Ghosh said he wrote the scene six months earlier.

Later in the story, Deen confronts a freakish hailstorm and fierce “gusts of winds” in Venice. Two months ago, the real-life city was battered by hailstones and winds powerful enough to toss a cruise ship about.

That a novel seems to anticipate some of these unusual weather events is proof to Ghosh that literature should devote more attention to the environment.

“Fact,” he said, “is outrunning fiction.”

Amitav Ghosh, whose book “Gun Island” is set in an ecologically unstable world, wants literature to explore the environment as much as it does other crises.

Alisha Haridasani Gupta

By Alisha Haridasani Gupta

  • Published Sept. 7, 2019 Updated Sept. 8, 2019
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