‘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 writer’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 – 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.


  1. So true. My own writing is definitely influenced by Tayeb Salih, and Elias Khoury too.

    I also read In an Antique Land and it blew me away. Then I read The Shadow Lines, and it was good, but it’s a very different book and I’d really gone after it because I wanted more Antique Land. I haven’t read a Ghosh book since. I’m thinking it’s time to have another look…

    1. Yes, me too. I was thinking I should start with his trilogy….

  2. Sea of Poppies is magnificent. Can recommend strongly.

    1. OK, seeing now if I can buy it for the Kindle…

  3. Do I smell a reading challenge?

    1. 🙂 This kindle thing is very useful for getting non-Arabic books, but I still have to get used to it. I love the physical book-object.

    2. Sofia, I promise you, if I ever get my act together and publish a book anywhere near the caliber of Amitav’s, I will challenge him to a “who’s read more contemporary arabic lit” smackdown. 🙂

  4. This I gotta see. 🙂

Comments are closed.