The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh


The first thoughts that came to my mind after closing the book The Calcutta Chromosome were that the right writer but probably a wrong first book to read. He is a master storyteller. But somewhere towards the end, it seems he lost interest in the story he was set out to narrate. At least in this case.

In the beginning, for about 20-30% of the book, you try and get hold of all the characters. The places, the motive of the story and a futuristic machine called Ava. Once you know them all you start enjoying the brilliant narrative for next 30% or so of the book. With two parallel stories running in two different worlds and times, which you expect to converge in the end. And you keep guessing how will they do so. The story also gains some pace, throwing surprises here and there and weaving mysticism around the whole story and each of the characters. And just when you are expecting an expected but exciting convergence, the story just loses steam. The characters just merge into each other and lose their crispness. The story just gets lost in the mish-mash of Indian mythology and science fiction.

The Calcutta Chromosome A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery by Amitav Ghosh

To be honest, I did not understand the end. Did not understand the reason for having Ava in the story. And the whole purpose of why the character from Egypt was trying to find the Calcutta Chromosome. The title itself is very loosely defined. And most people will not be able to comprehend the explanation. It seems towards the end, the author was in a hurry to finish the story. And hence just wrapped it up somehow. If he had maintained the narration like he did in the middle of the book, The Calcutta Chromosome would have been an extremely interesting book to read.

Having said that, I want to read his other books. As the reviews from people who had read his multiple books say, they were disappointed by this book of his. In fact, lots of them admitted having not understood this story at all, finding it too complex. I think more than complex it got confused in the end. And I definitely think that as a storyteller, he is great. So just read some of his better stories.

I would say skip this book.

You may buy this book – The Calcutta Chromosome A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery by Amitav Ghosh at Amazon India.

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  1. I totally agree with you. Thankfully I read "The Glass Palace" first, which is the best of his lot.
    Even though he is my most fav author, I could not relate to "Calcutta Chromosome" at all.

  2. lol,i found Calcutta chromosome to be terrific and it made me a fan of Amitav ghosh. Glass Palace otoh was quite difficult to read and i could not finish it. Ghosh could have worked a little harder on the climax. But probably he is the only quality English author even now who can compare with authors of Indian languages in depicting India and Calcutta chromosome is a beautiful example of that. It has a genre of its own.
    His best is Hungry Tide.Amitav writes very good non fiction too.Due to the time gap, I am unsure if Shadow lines was more boring than Glass palace.

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  5. I agree that The Calcutta Chromosome is the most particular book by Ghosh. It is not one of my favourite either, but I did like it.
    I thing the plot is complex, the end is open, and it is up to the reader to draw the lines that bring together different characters in different places and time.

    I recommend Shadow lines, it is one of my favourite books ever, though equally complex.
    Hungry tides, Glass palace, Sea of poppies are also wonderful novels.

  6. My general rule of thumb when beginning to read a new ( for me ) author is to read their work chronologically. This has served me well until "The Calcutta Chromosome". While I enjoyed many/most sections of the book, by the end I felt a bit dazed, confused and abandoned. I guess that I now join a select group of readers who also have these feelings. N'est pas?

  7. Yes, the ending is quite foggy. Though I do understand that Ava is a tool to show Antar's research into Murugan, it could've been handled more maturely. The book gives quite a vague impression, and I think the author did not have a very clear idea of how to write the backstory so that it would culminate in the idea he was trying to deliver. More about this on my blog.
    This is the second book of his I've read. The first was 'The Hungry Tide', which was a little too mushy and cheesy for me, but was an easier and more enjoyable read. It was what it looked like, a quality which is absent from the Calcutta Chromosome.
    Correct, Ms. Goyal, the loose definition of 'chromosome' is pretty irritating; as is the absence of that word from most of the book.


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