Gun Island

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 29 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

Thank you Netgalley and publishers for providing me an advanced copy of  "Gun Island".

I liked the simple writing style of the author. I totally loved the whole backdrop. It would be perfect for someone who wants to read a book totally different from the rest of the books that came this year. It totally takes you to a different world but there were too many Bengali phrases which can irk if not explained properly. It describes the local culture really good but some characteristics of the characters are a bit too much to believe.
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I enjoy the narrator's voice and the intrigue of this Indian mythology and how it's clearly about to lead our protagonist on an adventure, but it has yet to really grab my attention. I find myself setting it aside for other novels in my stack. I'll come back to it. And what is with this trend of snakes on covers?
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Thanks to Netgalley and Goodreads for the ARC they provided, though I mostly listened to the audiobook.

I thought this was going to be hard to get through and slow-paced but while the latter was true it turned out to be an interesting read indeed. I loved all the historical background and the engaging way it was laid out. The narrator did a great job of portraying our protagonist as an intellectual yet not a know-it-all who could experience great emotion regardless of how stubbornly logic advised against it. This is my first Amitav Ghosh read and I will definitely look more into his work.
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Beautifully written, as other Ghosh books I've read, I love the interweaving of myth and realism as his take on current events unfolds through the eyes of a rare book dealer living in Brooklyn.  Deen has several moments of truth, and we accompany him as he goes deep into the Sundarbans, a mangrove swamp area between 
Bengal and Bangladesh, Los Angeles and Venice, culminating on a ship in the Mediterranean.   Ghosh has a love of the planet and its people, but through this lovely book he quietly expresses his rage at the way they are doing one another in at this time.  Immigration atrocities are explored in an original way, and more than a little magic realism appears.  This is a lovely hallucinogenic read that transports the reader through time.
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It's a slow burn but the story ties up nicely in the end

A story within a story. Each mirroring the other, foretelling the next step the narrator takes. It's a magical tale that weaves the rational thought of modern day with the superstitions and folklore of the 17th century, traveling all over the world from Sundarban India to Venice Italy. Many questions are proposed and discussed between characters: are miracles merely chance outcomes? Has the scientific method replaced faith or has it given credence to what was once mystical? This book reminds me of The Club Dumas, The Shadow of the Wind, and even The Da Vinci Code. If you're looking for something along those lines you won't be disappointed in Gun Island.

My only complaint is how characters are introduced. It's a small matter and maybe I'm just nit picking. But many characters would bare their sole to the narrator upon meeting him. Tell him deep dark secrets. It's possible the narrator, Deen/Dino/Dinanath, is the type of person people tell things to, but he didn't let on that this is a normal occurrence. It felt too convenient of a way to move the story along. Other than that small complaint, the characters are wonderfully complex. Especially the women! They're all accomplished, have their own agency, dreams, and ambitions. They're also very complex characters for what is mostly an adventure story. I was worried Deen's romantic endeavors would sidetrack the story, but that didn't happen at all.

The language is beautiful, precise, and playful with meanings. Here's an example:

I had to have faith–that was the thing that had been missing in my life of late, faith. I had to cling to my faith in chance, at all costs. It was almost as though my fidelity were being tested, through trials and ordeals, like the Buddha by the demoness Mara; like St Anthony in the desert; like Yudhishthira on his final ascent.

I'm impressed with Ghosh's simple sentences which makes him very readable.
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Thank you Netgalley and Publishers for granting me early access to "Gun Island".

This book did top my favorite reads this year, however I'm currently in the middle of a major move, and will definitely come back at a later time and write out a full review and rating. 

Thank you so much!
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I found this an absorbing, well-told tale from beginning to end. though i found it relied  on so many  coincidences that it becomes ridiculous long before the end is in sight., and i would recommend to fiction lovers though not one of his best works
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Ultimately, I did not finish this novel. The prose was filled with Bengali phrases that were not translated, rambling paragraphs and a main character who I didn’t connect with. I could not find a rhythm with this one.
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A romp through an ancient Indian legend that will take you on a world tour and bring out your inner nerd. I thoroughly enjoyed Gun Island.
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Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Gun Island 
By: Amitav Ghosh

*REVIEW*  🌟🌟🌟
Where to begin? Gun Island is a complex novel that is not a fast or easy read. I had great difficulty in connecting with the main character. He felt too gullible and ridiculous. Eventually, the story started to feel ridiculous, too. It's all over the place and disjointed and too over the top. It didn't work for me.
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First published in Great Britain in 2019; published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on September 10, 2019

Dinanath “Deen” Datta is a dealer in rare books and antiquities, a profession that does not help him attract the attention of women. He lives in Brooklyn but maintains a residence in Calcutta. When Deen was a student, he did doctoral research on Indian folklore, particularly the story of a conflict between a Merchant and Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes.

An elderly aunt who founded a charity asks to see Deen as he is nearing the end of a trip to Calcutta. A marine biologist named Piya helps the aunt when she is not living in Oregon. Deen is immediately attracted to Piya, but as his therapist has told him, the hope of romance impairs his judgment.

Deen’s aunt tells him a story of the Merchant as she heard it from the caretaker of a shrine to Manasa Devi that stands in the middle of the Sundarbans, a mangrove forest in the Bay of Bengal. Paralleling the ancient story of Manasa Devi’s wrath, the story tells how a Merchant took refuge in a place devoid of snakes known as Gun Island, was later captured by pirates, and struck a deal with Manasa Devi to save himself. In return for freedom and prosperity, the Merchant built the shrine to Manasa Devi.

When Deen visits the shrine, a boy named Rafi fills in more of the Merchant's story. Bad luck befalls Deen, Rafi, and a boy named Tipu during the visit. With the help of a knowledgeable acquaintance and having examined markings on the shrine, Deen later reinterprets the legends that surround Gun Island.

The heart of the story begins when Deen is asked to interpret for a filmmaker who is making a documentary about migrants in Venice. He is surprised to learn how many residents of the Venetian Ghetto speak Bangla. He is also surprised to find Rafi working in Venice. When Piya contacts him to report that Tipu has disappeared from the Sundarbans, Deen suspects that Rafi knows more about Tipu’s whereabouts than he is willing to admit.

Snakes, spiders and legends about Italian sea monsters and the possession of souls begin to trouble Deen during his Venetian adventure. Yet other monsters are a more immediate threat, including worms that are eating the wooden foundations upon which Venice is built, a threat directly rated to warming seas caused by climate change. The story also draws interesting parallels between dolphins, who are forced to search for new hunting grounds when pollutants create “dead zones” in oceans where no fish survive, and people who leave the Sundarbans because the sea no longer supports fishermen. “No one knows where they belong any more, neither humans nor animals.”

In addition to addressing the impact of climate change, the novel focuses on refugees who are trying to make their way to Italy by boat. They encounter resistance from Italian authorities. That story, like the harrowing journey that Rafi and Tipu take from India, smuggled into Iran and running from shots fired by Turkish border guards, is a timely reminder of the dangers faced by unwelcome migrants everywhere. How the developed world treats impoverished refugees is one of the novel’s key themes.

The story’s weakness is its attempt to make events in Italy echo the legend of the Merchant, including creatures converging on the refugees from the sea and air. I won’t give away the ending, but it the kind of moral climax that might be found in a parable. Gun Island is too complex to classify as a parable, but it strains to combine elements of legend with the realities of the modern world. Still, Amitav Ghosh tells a moving story in graceful prose, making it easy for readers to sympathize with unfortunate characters and to admire characters who behave decently despite their financial success.

Transplanting symbols of the legend into Deen’s life is a clever concept that doesn’t quite work. I find it difficult to invest in stories that depend on elements of fantasy while making clear that the narrative is not a fantasy. Perhaps readers who are more willing to accept the miraculous will have a different opinion. Nevertheless, for its well-developed characters and its juxtaposition of the two most pressing social problems in the modern world (global warming and hostility to migrants), Gun Island is an important and intriguing novel.

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Wow. Starting off, I knew this was not going to be an easy, fast read. Amitav Ghosh writes so beautifully and sucks you into the story - no matter if you feel like some of it is going nowhere. It does somehow weave into the rest of the story. You don't care because the words just entice you. 

Tiny Synopsis: Deen Datta "Dino" is a rare books dealer based in Brooklyn. He spends his winters in Calcutta - nothing extraordinary about his life. Upon meeting Piya - he sets off on an adventure from India to Los Angeles to Venice - all somehow connected to the tale of Gun Merchant. He is reluctant in his journey but his path in life leads him to search and find connections between the Gun Merchant legend to his own realities in life. 

My Review: 
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/ 5 stars 

This very descriptive novel is just a wonder to read. It did feel a bit all over the place but then you have to remember you are in Deen Datta's head as he navigates his life journey when meeting with all these individuals who take him closer to this Gun Island/ Merchant tale. His tale seems to be almost parallel to what was transpiring in Datta's own life and to those he was running into. A skeptic would say its all coincidence, but this book is supposed to make you wonder beyond that. This book does deal with issues of the immigration/refugee crisis in Italy/ Europe/ Africa. I felt the ending felt sudden compared to the pace of the rest of the book - but maybe I was just sad it ended. I wanted to read more about what was going to happen to Deen Datta and his friends including Rafi & Tibu , and his budding friendship with Piya. I highly recommend if you have the time! It's not a long book, but you definitely want to pay attention and read every single word.
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Reading Gun Island and the way that the novel not only incorporates folklore but almost becomes folkloric itself brings back the nostalgia of reading fairytales like Thakumar Jhuli for the first time (a storybook every Bengali child reads). I would even further argue that Gun Island reminds me of the way my grandparents and parents told me stories from when they were growing up (My father would often tell me that when marriages were being arranged and settled in his village in Chittagong, one family would send a beggar to another in order to assess their character). This is even furthered through his references to the Manasamangal Kavya and other local folklore centering on the figure of the Gun Merchant.
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Ghosh is one of my favorite novelists and Gun Island focuses on climate change, migrations of refugees, power of myths and folklores, and the random workings of chance. It narrates how Dinanath Dutta‘s quest for a legend becomes a story of 17th century Venice, the Sunderbans in India, the travels of refuges, displacement and privilege, and the hope inherent in humanity.
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Rare book dealer Deen Datta encounters an intriguing new version of a well-known Bengal legend, along with a shrine devoted to it in a remote location. Suddenly, Deen’s belief system is upended, while friends—old and new—help him to embark on a path of discovery about the meaning of old tales in a changing world.

I am conflicted when it comes to rating Gun Island. On one hand, it is an absorbing, well-told tale from beginning to end. On the other hand, it relies on so many eye-rolls inducing coincidences that it becomes ridiculous long before the end is in sight. Moreover, I found hard to believe that a sane, mature man would be so gullible and emotionally frail; the legend rattled the protagonist more than it had any right to.

It seems that Amitav Ghosh could not decide if he wanted to breathe life into an old legend by exploring its possible impact in the modern world, or if he wanted to write a full-blown manifesto on climate change and human trafficking. Was the legend an allegory? I just couldn’t decide, and maybe Ghosh could not either, which is a pity because the novel is eminently readable.

Disclaimer: I received from the publisher a free e-book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Bundook. Gun. A common word, but one which turns Deen Datta's world upside down.

A dealer of rare books, Deen is used to a quiet life spent indoors, but as his once-solid beliefs begin to shift, he is forced to set out on an extraordinary journey; one that takes him from India to Los Angeles and Venice via a tangled route through the memories and experiences of those he meets along the way.

There is Piya, a fellow Bengali-American who sets his journey in motion; Tipu, an entrepreneurial young man who opens Deen's eyes to the realities of growing up in today's world; Rafi, with his desperate attempt to help someone in need; and Cinta, an old friend who provides the missing link in the story they are all a part of. It is a journey which will upend everything he thought he knew about himself, about the Bengali legends of his childhood and about the world around him.- Goodreads

An extremely well thought out and beautifully written book. The author holds no punches when writing about the culture and describing the tale that drives the book. 

What I loved about the book was Deen's search for the truth about a tale that is passed down from generation to generation in India. This tale is so ingrained in Deen's life that his obsession over it makes sense. The way it is described is that it is one of those tales that you are told to as a child through the local storyteller and it is a tale that keeps circling back generation after generation so it never loses steam. 

The tale itself isn't anything spectacular and as much as I would love to tell you more about it, I can't. It would be spoiling parts of the novel. Anyway, the reason for my obsession and Deen's as well, is the thought that there are physical objects/historical facts that make the story real. Its like finding out Superman actually existed and then finding out where he lived. I freaking loved this aspect of the book and it kept me going. 

Although this novel is written beautifully and full of detail, it was long winded. Deen, himself, wasn't that much of a likeable character and as I kept reading I realized that Deen didn't really know a whole lot. Yes, he did the travels and gathered information but he lacked so much knowledge that I had to wonder, how is it that he can be a rare book dealer and have went to school specializing on storytelling and culture but knew almost nothing. 

Another thing about this novel. . . there are a lot of subplots or themes that if you are not paying attention to you will miss. For instance, Deen's views on Indian culture and their viewpoints in regards to religion. This is just one example but it is brief but powerful at the same time. Deen has a lot of things going on and the author explores each and everyone not necessarily leaving the reader with doubt but leaving them more with the question of do I want to know more about Deen or move on?

Overall, this a book you take your time on (the author makes sure of that). If you are looking for a tomb raider ish book, you're not going to get it with this one. I enjoyed this book. Although the infamous tale that starts off this whole thing kept me reading, this book is not for everyone. 

Oh! One more thing. I did not like the ending. It was too abrupt as if the author just looked at the page and decided he didn't want to write anymore. 

3 Pickles
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