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In an Antique Land (1992)

by Amitav Ghosh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7541320,595 (3.8)53
The author recounts his ten-year investigation into the life a twelfth-century Indian slave who lived in a remote corner of Egypt.
Recently added bykdmesser, mkvande, private library, MadamMagic, Atticus06, butsuri, sjben
  1. 00
    Sacred Treasure--The Cairo Genizah: The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic by Mark Glickman (marieke54)
  2. 00
    The City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish by Peter Parsons (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both these books deal, in part, with the view of daily life which was revealed to historians by the unexpected survival of waste paper (old shopping lists, letters, and other detritus of daily life) in the dry Egyptian air.
  3. 00
    ALLAKAZZAM! by Daniel Abelman (bintarab)
    bintarab: Like Ghosh's book, Abelman's work involves Jewish culture in diaspora not as a treatise on the subject, but with the understanding that the characters' lives are profoundly affected by life experiences that transcend borders.

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» See also 53 mentions

English (12)  Italian (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
The vignettes from the life of a tiny poor Egyptian town are fascinating - a rare and vivid view into an isolated culture. The history part, however, is a disorganized, random info dump - it seemed to me he just put all his research notes into the book, without a narrative or cohesion. Too bad, because some part of it was interesting, but really, do we need a biography of everyone who came near the documents but failed to discover them? ( )
  Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
A lovely parallel account of the author's time as an anthropology student in a small village in Egypt, and his research into the life of a Jewish slave mentioned in some medieval documents found in a cache in Cairo. The story of how the research came into being is fascinating in itself -- his description of the cache of documents in the Cairo Ganizeh would have been enough to keep my interest, but his account of living in the farming village was equally charming -- especially his inability to explain the religious traditions of Hindus to the Muslims he was living among. He is not Hindu himself, but everyone assumes that he is, and thus that he worships cows, and burns the dead -- two things that are blasphemous to a Muslim. Ghosh comments at one point that he didn't know an Arabic word for "cremated" and thus, when describing Hindu religious traditions, was forced to use the word "burned" -- the same word Muslims used to describe the fate of sinners destined for hell.

There is little to no sense of Western superiority in the story, but there are a fair number of eye-opening observations on the politics of the Middle East as it is experienced by your average village farmer looking for a better life.This is in the early eighties, so a generation or so after the Egyptian revolution of Nasser in 1952, when serfs were freed and allotted their own land. Now the economy is in upheaval, the promise of the revolution has either been realized, if you were lucky, or dissipated if you weren't. There is an exodus to find work "outside" -- in Iran, mostly, which was at war and needed labor -- and a need for hard currency.

All in all a wise and touching account of a small village in the midst of economic upheaval and modernization, and at the same time a rather brilliant historical investigation into the life of a man known only via a few mentions in letters between 12th century merchants trying to do business across uncertain trade routes.
1 vote southernbooklady | May 5, 2017 |
Interesting memoir of the author's time spent in Egypt and the people he met there, interspersed with the story of a 12th century Indian trader, the subject of the research that took Ghosh there originally as a student. A bit awkward at times, as the two stories didn't mesh for me as well as the blurbs and reviews suggest. Some of the transitions were pretty blunt. Overall, an informative and relatively engaging read. I gave it 3 1/2 stars.

Review written in August, 2011 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Dec 22, 2014 |
An Indian writer, navigating between anthropological studies in Egypt and modern life in India, reflects on the changes in modern Egypt and its rich history as part of a wider eastern culture. He takes us navigating across Europe, the middle East and India with a mediaeval jewish trading elite, showing us the alternative civilisations that existed before Western Europe's colonising endeavours. His Egyptians live in a world that's deeply and passionately embedded in its history, and striding cautiously into a different future. And at the same time we navigate through the world of academia, deciphering randomly preserved mysteries and walking through forgotten lives set out in nefariously harvested manuscripts. Fascinating, informative, thought provoking
  otterley | Mar 26, 2014 |
This was an interesting and well-written part memoir, part exploration into history through manuscripts. I enjoyed reading about Ghosh's experiences in a land foreign to him (Egypt) as well as he investigations into the story of a Jewish merchant from the 12th century. ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ghosh, Amitavprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Müller, MatthiasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nadotti, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spólny, JacekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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