The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

I picked up The Calcutta Chromosome after a friend recommended it. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it, which turned out to be a good thing because I was pleasantly surprised with what the book offered.

Calcutta Chromosome is, simply put, a sci-fi book. It is about a man’s quest for finding the truth – the truth behind the cause of malaria and the research that went behind it. The book starts with a man, Antar, working on his super smart computer, Ava, and finding an ID card on screen which belonged to a person he knew. The ID brings back memories and Antar’s curiosity leads him to the person’s file and Antar realizes that the person, Murugan, has been missing since many years. Antar recalls that Murugan had been obsessed with malaria and its cause and the scientist who found the cause, Ronald Ross. Murugan’s theory is that Ross did not find the cause on his own, but was guided to the right path by certain forces around him. Murugan’s quest brings him to Calcutta, the place where Ross made his dicover from where he goes missing.

The story switches places and periods to tell us stories that have are connected to Murugan’s story. We go back to that period when Ross was doing the research and even before that when Cunningham was attempting the same thing. There are a lot of characters and the story moves back and forth and sometimes there is a story within a story and another within it and it got confusing for me.

The main plot is very interesting – to suggest that someone wanted Ross to identify the cause of malaria in order to hide some other bigger secret. Ghosh adds a touch of Hindu background to the sci-fi story by bringing in a character who is seen as ‘God woman’ and adding incidents of puja and shrine and festivals and reincarnations. He even gives a glimpse of a ghost – trains appearing out of no where and tracks being changed automatically. I thought this part was silly.

In the end, all the characters in the book are involved in the story somehow and we have this long chain of events happening over centuries and the characters spread across places and periods and we don’t know what the heck is happening. The worst part is the book ended so abruptly that I wanted to kick the author. It’s good to end the book on suspense and let the reader interpret the ending in his own way, but what Ghosh did with this book was more like mocking the reader.

The characters are poorly developed, which is often the case in sci-fi. You concentrate on the plot and the story rather than create believable characters.

This was my first Ghosh book and it left a sour taste in my mouth. And I don’t know whether I really want to read another Ghosh book. If you have read Ghosh, then which book would you recommend I pick next?

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15 Responses to “The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh”

  1. JoV Says:

    Sounds like this is a bummer. I do want to read The Glass Palace and the Sea of Poppies though.

  2. Arun Says:

    I liked this book though – Especially the part where he speaks about the railway station and the lantern in the night.

    I love his writing as I started with “The Hungry Tide” and “The Glass Palace”. There are other books like Circle of Reason and In an Antique Land which are also okay but not the best like his other ones.

  3. mrigank Says:

    i loved this book. have never read another that combines science, thrills, history and the surreal before.
    The Hungry Tide, The Glass Palace and Sea of Poppies are epic. i also enjoyed Dancing in Cambodia, at Large in Burma.

  4. Paddy Says:

    I usually have a hard time reading different books by the same author. I absolutely loved The Glass Palace , to date this is one of the most enjoyable books i have read that would keep me up late at night 🙂 I want to try out other books by Amitav, do share your views on The Hungry Tide.

  5. Life is full of challenges « What I have been reading… Says:

    […] a Spoonful – 3 books. I already have a candidate for this – Amitava Ghosh. I read his The Calcutta Chromosome and wasn’t particularly impressed with it. I want to give him a try again and read The Hungry […]

  6. Just for fun « What I have been reading… Says:

    […] How I would like to die: The Calcutta Chromosome […]

  7. Amlandeep Bhattacharya Says:

    Ghosh is a able writer .I shall love to read his Sea of Popies.

  8. Ankita Says:

    yeah I read Calcutta Chromosome, my second Ghosh book. Not quite how I expected it to be. My review: http://ggloudspeaker.blogspot.com/2011/03/calcutta-chromosome.html

    The other book I’ve read is the Hungry Tide. It’s a better read than the Calcutta Chromosome. And it’s about a real tide, unlike the imaginative chromosome in the Calcutta Chromosome.

  9. Mrinal Says:

    just finished reading this book..and im forced to do a google search to actually implement it. thats where I found this blog post 🙂

  10. benjamuna Says:

    Don’t give up on Ghosh……

  11. Archana Says:

    Haha. I swear! I really wanted to find Amitav Ghosh and punch him hard. What are we to make of such an ending? So, Antar is the next Laakhan and Urmila, Sonali were Maria and Tara.. and they all help his soul transcend into another somewhere? Information theory, and superstition and immorality. Sigh.

    Please read The Hungry Tide. It’s much different from this book and is one of my absolute favorites.

  12. Shamika Lal Says:

    You should try “Sea of Poppies” by Ghosh, instead.
    It’s excellent.

  13. springletters Says:

    You began with a wrong book. Try shadow lines. That’s gotta b the beginning.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Read shadowlines


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