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Amitav Ghosh on How Fiction Can Teach Us How Not to Suffer

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

This week on First Draft, Amitav Ghosh joins Mitzi to discuss his novel Gun Island, out now from FSG.

From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: Something I noticed, and I’m curious if it is this particular story or if its fiction in general, but all of your really main characters had such loss and started out with loss. Rafi and Tupi experienced more loss as the book went on. They lost their country. They lost their safety. They lose each other. When we begin with Dean, he’s had a loss of love and his business is at a loss. Priya is losing the dolphins, and the world is losing them. Cinta lost her daughter.

We see so much loss from the very beginning. Do you feel this electrifies fiction? Is it just the human condition, or is it just this story?

Amitav Ghosh: I think it is the human condition. The Buddha said a long time ago, you know, life is suffering. All his teachings were about suffering and how not to suffer. It’s a curious thing that we forget in the modern world. We think life is all about things being good, but historically people knew that life isn’t easy, that life always entailed a lot of suffering and loss. So yes, these characters all go through very wrenching kinds of emotional traumas.

Mitzi: Is there something that you want people to come away with when they finish your work?

Amitav: Well, if there is any one thing I want them to come away with it’s the sense that the world is much stranger than we think, and the ways in which our world is changing is itself very strange, very uncanny, and very disturbing.We have to try to grapple with it and make sense of it.

To listen to the rest of the episode, as well as the whole archive of First Draft, subscribe and listen on iTunes or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.


Amitav Ghosh is the author of the acclaimed and bestselling Ibis trilogy, which includes Sea of Poppies (short-listed for the 2008 Man Booker Prize), River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire, all published by FSG. His other novels include The Circle of Reason, which won the Prix Médicis étranger, and The Glass Palace. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government in 2007 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009. He lives in India.

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