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In An Antique Land [Paperback]

Amitav Ghosh
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 12 2012 Granta Classics
In an Antique Land is a subversive history in the guise of a traveller's tale. When the author stumbles across a slave narrative in the margins of an ancient text, his curiosity is piqued. What follows is a ten year search, which brings author and slave together across 800 hundred years of colonial history. Bursting with anecdote and exuberant detail, it offers a magical, intimate biography of the private life of a country, Egypt, from the Crusades to Operation Desert Storm.

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From Publishers Weekly

In a leisurely blend of travelogue, history and cross-cultural analysis, Indian writer Ghosh reconstructs a 12th-century master-slave relationship that confounds modern concepts of slavery. Abraham Ben Yiju, a prosperous Tunisian Jewish merchant based in medieval Cairo, resettled in Aden, then spent two decades on India's Malabar Coast, where he hired a slave or servant, probably of Indian origin, named Bomma. Bomma acted as Ben Yiju's business agent and made overseas trips for him. In medieval India and the Middle East, Ghosh points out, servitude was often a career opportunity, the principal means of recruitment into privileged strata of the army and bureaucracy. Researching in letters and documents in Egypt, where he lived for several years, Ghosh ( The Shadow Lines ) evokes a world of mud-walled houses and class warfare between Egyptian laborers and landowners. He also writes vividly of southern India, a tapestry of castes, cults and worship of spirit-deities.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Ghosh, an Indian Hindu, first read about a medieval (12th century) Jew and his Indian slave while a student at Oxford. He became fascinated almost to the point of obsession. After studying Arabic, he enrolled at a university in Alexandria, Egypt to perform further research. A professor found him lodgings in an nearby village. This book recounts his attempt to merge the two stories: life in modern Egyptian villages (not dissimilar to that of 5000 years ago), and his search for the Indian slave. The merger doesn't quite work. Individually, both subjects are fascinating; together they are less so. In addition, Ghosh's language and writing style are both stilted. Still, Ghosh's subject is exotic yet intimate, and academic and public libraries should consider purchasing his account.
- Paula M. Zieselman, Fulbright & Jaworski, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
i picked this book after hearing a friend talk about his trip to egypt.. i expected a more descrptive kind of book about egypt and was pleasantly surprised with the novella flavour that it actually has.. the author introduces very ordinary characters from present times living through their life.. he juxtaposes this with accounts of the life of a jewish merchant and his indian slave from the 10th century.. and then draws parallels between the social issues during the two time periods which seem surprisingly similar..
but the part that i thourougly enjoyed in this book was the village life and characters from the egyptian village and the real life struggles that they were going through.. made me want to hop on the next plane to egypt and see these ppl for myself..
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new look at the middle ages June 8 2001
Format:Paperback
This book is quite unique as it blends a travel account with the analysis of the history that covers the area from the Middle East to India. Ghosh, an accomplished scholar in social anthropology, provides a personalized view of the subject. Trading in the middle ages had many socio political implications and had many human tragedies. Indeed, slave trading can be seen as the worst form of human tragedy that we can imagine today. But in those days people of different religions and background profited from it.
Ghosh also provides a very readable history of the study of history, how the documents and information related to these periods were discovered. He has been very successful in holding the reader's attention. The book is worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly enriching experience April 19 2001
Format:Paperback
I read IN AN ANTIQUE LAND because I greatly admire Amitav Ghosh's novels, and wanted to read more of him.
As the reader quickly discovers, Ghosh in this book works with three narratives. One is a 'detective' story, albeit in the most scholarly of veins. As a student Ghosh recounts how he came across a reference -- one line -- to an Indian slave who worked for a Jewish master, Abraham ben Yiju. Who was this most marginal of historical personages, whose name emerges -- the time is 1148 AD -- "when the only people for whom we can even begin to imagine properly human, individual, existences are the literate and the consequential, the wazirs and sulatans, the chroniclers and the priests -- the people who had the power to inscribe themselves physically upon time...the slave of Khalaf's letter was not of that company: in his instance it was a mere accident that those barely discernible traces that ordinary people leave upon the world happen to have been preserved."
The detective search for more information on the slave, his owner, the world they both inhabited, leads Ghosh to Geniza of Cairo, a storehouse of Jewish documents which miraculously survived the destruction that seems to be the fate of most paper over the course of many centuries. The documents are themselves a diaspora in miniature: none remain in Egypt, being dispersed to St. Petersburg, Oxford, Cambridge, Philadelphia...and yet the book recounts how Ghosh tracks them down.
The second narrative requires Ghosh's novelistic gifts, as he attempts to reconstruct, from mere shreds of evidence, the life of Abraham and his slave.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It Shouldn't Work! May 30 2000
Format:Paperback
But it does! This book takes three part-stories, dry academic scholarship, adapting to life in a completely different culture and a slave in 12th century Egypt, that are each individually neither compelling nor fulfilling. Yet the sum of the three parts is both compelling and fulfilling. The narrative jumps from story to story skillfully, creating tensions in each story line that would otherwise be absent and drawing the reader onward. Amitav Ghosh is a wonderful writer of lyric descriptions and this book is lovingly fulled with them, adding embellishments to the otherwise simple stories. Everything comes together to produce a book as good as his Shadow Lines.
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