‘I Am One of the Few non-Arab Writers Who Have Read a Lot of Arab Literature’

No reason for any suspense: That was Amitav Ghosh, speaking in Gulf News.

The lead of the Gulf News piece, “An old hand at storytelling” falls for Ghosh’s claim that he’s a slow writer. His recently released River of Smoke (553 pages) has come out three and a half years after his Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies. (Writing even a decent 500+-page book in three years = speedy.)

The piece understandably focuses on the new release, River of Smoke. But I—who have read, among Ghosh’s works, only In an Antique Land—was most interested in teasing out this bit:

“In fact, I am one of the few non-Arab writers who have read a lot of Arab literature and it reflects in my writings.”

Gulf News doesn’t chase down this thread, but blogger Sonia Filinto apparently asked Ghosh about this influence in 2009. He told her:

Many Arab writers have played a large part in my literary education. One such work is Tyab Asali [Tayeb Salih], the great Sudanese writerโ€™s Season of Migration to the North about migration, connections between Europe and Africa, Europe and the non-west. At that time, the sort of things that I was thinking about โ€“ displacement, immigration, movement, these were not much written in Indian writing or anywhere else except in the Arabic world, as they had a strong experience of these things.

Yes, (the best) Arabic literature can help develop your style, your imagination, your understanding of the world. Full stop.