Amitav Ghosh – The Calcutta Chromosome

This book is unique. I’ve never read anything quite like it before and can’t really define it. I first encountered it on a postcolonial literature course – I think it was there in part to confound the idea of a neat category called ‘the postcolonial‘. The Calcutta Chromosome is, at it’s heart, a science fiction fantasy historical medical thriller – and there is an element of the postcolonial to it too, for the not-very-subtle reason that its written by an author from India, and part of it is set during the British colonisation of India. It is interesting that the postcolonial discipline almost cannibalises the work of the authors and writing it seeks to promote, by pigeonholing them as ‘postcolonial‘ and denying the diversity and uniqueness of a text like The Calcutta Chromosome.

But I digress. This is a fast paced thriller, using a few shameless Dan Brown-esque tactics, (cliff-hanger chapter endings and moving between different story lines) that leave you excited and dying to read on as the pace picks up. The novel is centered on a mysterious conspiracy theory surrounding malaria – I don’t want to give too much away, in case you go on to read it, but I will say that Ghosh has an incredible imagination and is a fantastic storyteller. Chaos theory (in the simplest terms – the idea that small, inconsequential events can have unforeseen and powerful consequences) seems to be a theme in the novel. Tiny events, that you almost ignore as you read, move along the plot and really left me wondering at Ghosh’s capacity to think out such an intricate and involved plot. It’s worth reading The Calcutta Chromosome, and then reading it again, to really soak up all the detail that Ghosh has put into it.

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