The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable is the latest non-fiction from Amitav Ghosh and undoubtedly different from his earlier excursions in the non-fiction genre. However, the book almost spells out the reason behind his latest fictional novel, The Gun Island, where he subtly draws our attention to the climate crisis through an intriguing story.


In the Great Derangement, he presents his views on the ignorance feigned by writers, politicians, businesses, both in the present and the past, about the long-term impacts of climate change. Amitav Ghosh contends that humanity, by and large, is confused or in denial of the aftermath of climate change. He postulates that this confusion is rampant across society, including the intelligentsia.


The book comprises of three parts: Stories, History, and Politics. In each section, Ghosh argues how the climate crisis is neglected in the literature, historical decisions, and contemporary public policies.


For instance, in the section called Stories, Ghosh notes that the ‘climate crisis is a culture, and thus of the imagination.’ He laments that novels have become focused on the individual identity, and the conflict is often moralistic, thus completely ignoring the collective. He complains that climate fiction has been relegated and constricted to the genre of science fiction. He also notes that most of these ‘cli-fi’ stories are set in the future, serving further to push the fear of an impending climate crisis into a distant future. The reality of the crisis and its consequences, alas, is very much evident in the present.


In the History section, Ghosh points out how the story of climate change dates back to the 1930s when the carbon economy had not touched Asia but was already well-developed in the West. He then chronicles the economic activities that led to the present-day climate situation. Ghosh notes that urban developers and builders consider land near the sea or any water body to be prime real estate. But he also adds that they were merely following in the footsteps of Western colonizers who set up shop in cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York, all of them now threatened by the rising sea levels.


In the section on Politics, he makes an interesting observation that, just like literature, politics has become associated with searching for one’s identity and a journey of self-discovery rather than a collective movement. He notes that a move from the carbon economy towards a green economy may redistribute global power, as power and wealth ‘is largely dependent on consumption of fossil fuels.’


The book helped me connect my personal experiences of floods in Mumbai and Chennai, with his perspectives, especially Ghosh’s observations on urban development. For instance, he notes that ‘proximity to the water is a sign of affluence and education; a seafront location is a status symbol; an ocean view greatly increases the value of the real estate.’ My thoughts immediately drew to the numerous ‘lake-view’ apartments, which, instead of providing a scenic view, had the lakes pushing their doorsteps or even entering the compounds during the floods.


Overall, the book left me with a better view of what could be done to throw away the inertia and denial of the climate crisis, but it left me wanting more. Though helpful in segregating a unique set of views, the sections do little to break Ghosh’s complex ideas into manageable chunks. In his acknowledgement, Ghosh mentions that this book started as a series of lectures at the University of Chicago. Perhaps, this is why the sections though divided further into chapters, give a disjointed feel to the book.


The book suitably reminded me that we could well be ignoring the Cassandras’ of climate change as we adopt a ‘deny and postpone’ strategy in understanding the implications of the crisis. I only wish that the book was written in a manner that helps us connect the dots. The sections by themselves provide enough points to note and remember, but it would seem a difficult task for a layperson like me to piece it together and get the complete message as intended by Ghosh. The book’s complex structuring is indeed a pity because Amitav Ghosh is one of the foremost thinkers and writers of our times, whose ideas and views are worthy of public discourse.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Book Name: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Penguin
Book Type: eBook
Pages: 206

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