Laureates 2010

2010 Present - Literature: Rendition of the 20th Century

Amitav Ghosh

ghoshAmitav Ghosh is an lndian-Bengali novelist whose work offers a panoramic treatment of twentieth-century history from a postcolonial perspective.


He divides his time between India and the United States. 

Ghosh's work provides a transnational understanding of the self seen as the intersection of the many identities produced by the collision of languages and cultures; displacement and exile - lives torn between India, Burma, England, and elsewhere; families torn by the violence and psychological turmoil of colonial rule and post-colonial dispossession; a globe wracked by two world wars and their ancillary bloodshed, have been integral to Ghosh's work from his earliest novels, The Circle of Reason (1986) and The Shadow Lines (1990).

His fiction is distinguished equally by its precise, beautifully rendered depictions of characters and settings, and by its sweeping sense of history unfolding over generations against the backdrop of the violent dislocations of peoples and regimes during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This is most evident in The Glass Palace (2000), which traces the life story of Rajkumar, a self-made young man who builds a fortune in the teak and rubber trades, and spans a century of Indian and Burmese history, from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty to British rule, through the Japanese invasion during World War II, and beyond.

The impact of Western science and technology on non-western worlds, and the consequent entanglement of political and environmental upheaval often lies at the center of Ghosh's work. In The Calcutta Chromosome (1995), Hindu beliefs about the transmigration of the soul intersect with modern-day ideas about genetics and cloning. The Hungry Tide (2004) chronicles conflicts of culture, class, and world-view through the interlocking stories of an American-born marine biologist of Indian extraction, the illiterate native who becomes her guide, and a Delhi professional who acts as her interpreter.

Sea of Poppies (2008), Ghosh's latest novel and the first of a planned trilogy, likewise forecasts the dislocations of the twentieth century in its exploration of the intersecting tales of a free mulatto American, an Indian peasant, a disgraced Rajah, and the orphaned daughter of a French botanist working in India.

Ghosh's awards include the Prix Médicis Étranger, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Hutch Crossword Book Prize, the Grand Prize for Fiction of the Frankfurt International e-Book Awards, the Sahitya Akademi Award (from India's National Academy of Letters), and the Grinzane Cavour Prize.

Ghosh's remarkable reworking of the great tradition of the Western novel in transnational terms marks him as a writer destined for distinction and acclaim.