Incendiary Circumstances: A Chronicle of the Turmoil of Our Times

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9780618378067: Incendiary Circumstances: A Chronicle of the Turmoil of Our Times
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"An uncannily honest writer." —New York Times Book Review

The novelist and journalist Amitav Ghosh has offered extraordinary firsthand accounts of pivotal world events over the past twenty years. He is an essential voice in forums like The Nation, the New York Times, the New Republic, Granta, and The New Yorker, Incendiary Circumstances brings together the finest of these pieces for the first time—including many never before published in the States -- in a compelling chronicle of the turmoil of our times. Incendiary Circumstances begins with Ghosh’s arrival in the Andaman and Nicobar islands just days after the devastation of the 2005 tsunami. We then travel back to September 11, 2001, as Ghosh retrieves his young daughter from school, sick with the knowledge that she must witness the kind of firestorm that has been in the background of his everyday life since childhood. With a prescience born of experience, Ghosh warned decades ago of the dangerous rise of religious extremism. In his travels he has stood on an icy mountaintop on the contested border between India and Pakistan, interviewed Pol Pot’s sister-in-law in Cambodia, shared the elation of Egyptians when Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize, and stood with his threatened Sikh neighbors through the riots following Indira Gandhi's assassination. With intelligence and authentic sympathy, he "illuminates the human drama behind the headlines" (Publishers Weekly). Incendiary Circumstances is unparalleled testimony of an era defined by the ravages of politics and nature.

Amitav Ghosh is acclaimed for his political journalism and his travel writing. The New York Times Book Review called his travelogue, In An Antique Land, "remarkable . . . rivals anything by the masters of social realism in modern Egyptian literature." He is also the best-selling author of four novels, including The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace, which has been published in eighteen foreign editions. Ghosh has won France's prestigious Prix Medici Etranger, India's Sahitya Akademi Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Educated in South Asia, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom, Ghosh holds a doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford. He divides his time between Harvard University, where he is a visiting professor, and his homes in Kolkata, India, and Brooklyn, New York.
Advance Praise for Incendiary Circumstances

"This absorbing collection of essays by the novelist, journalist, and travel writer Ghosh . . . covers some two decades of catastrophe and upheaval, from sectarian violence in his native India during the 1980s through the September 11 attacks . . . to the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. With an eye for evocative detail, he illuminates the human dramas behind the headlines: the plight of tsunami refugees trying to rebuild their lives and finances after every bank record and piece of ID is lost to the waves; the courage of ordinary Indians protecting their Sikh neighbors from rampaging Hindu mobs . . . He is equally engaging when he turns from current affairs to literary essays on, say, the international culture of novel reading or the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali. Written in luminous prose with unusual understanding . . . an insightful look at a chaotic world." -- Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Praise for Amitav Ghosh

"Ghosh is adept at delineating the complicated crosscurrents of emerging national independence movements. He is even more impressive at portraying the different ways in which individuals react to the turmoil, hardship, and disorientation wrought by war.” – Wall Street Journal

"A wonderful hybrid of travel writing, reporting, historical analysis, and memoir – in other words, the kind of piece [Ghosh] writes better than almost anyone else.” – Washington Times

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About the Author:

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956 and raised and educated in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, Egypt, India, and the United Kingdom, where he received his Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford. Acclaimed for fiction, travel writing, and journalism, his books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In an Antique Land, and Dancing in Cambodia. His previous novel, The Glass Palace, was an international bestseller that sold more than a half-million copies in Britain. Recently published there, The Hungry Tide has been sold for translation in twelve foreign countries and is also a bestseller abroad. Ghosh has won France’s Prix Medici Etranger, India’s prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He now divides his time between Harvard University, where he is a visiting professor, and his homes in India and Brooklyn, New York.

From The Washington Post:

Amitav Ghosh characterizes the essays he has collected in Incendiary Circumstances: A Chronicle of the Turmoil of Our Times (Houghton Mifflin, $25) as a kind of collective answer to a question he traces back to Mahatma Gandhi: "Is it possible to write about situations of violence without allowing your work to become complicit with the subject?" To offer a simple example, giving the name of the man who killed John Lennon helps fulfill the killer's crazed desire to go down in history; yet a writer who wants to shed light on the incident can hardly avoid discussing and analyzing its perpetrator. Ghosh, a journalist who divides his time between Brooklyn and India, is also a novelist, and in an essay on the assassination of another Gandhi -- Indira, the Indian prime minister killed in 1984 -- he notes the temptation in store for any fiction writer who takes on a violent subject: "It is all too easy to present violence as an apocalyptic spectacle, while the resistance to it can easily figure as mere sentimentality or, worse, as pathetic and absurd."

In other pieces, Ghosh writes about the Cambodia of Pol Pot, 9/11, the 2004 tsunami and the winning of the Nobel Prize by the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. In the charming "The March of the Novel Through History," he recalls his wonderment at his grandfather's bookcase in Calcutta, which contained Maxim Gorky and John Steinbeck, Henry Sienkiewicz and Henri Bergson; the panoply of 19th-century greats (Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, etc.); and now-obscure folk such as Marie Corelli and Grazia Deledda -- names that for Ghosh "have become a kind of secret incantation . . . a password that allows entry into the brotherhood of remembered bookcases."

World on Fire
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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