Book Review: Amitav Ghosh In an Antique Land
“The only people for whom we can even begin to imagine properly human, individual, existences are the literate and the consequential, the wazirs and the sultans, the chroniclers, and the priests—the people who had the power to inscribe themselves physically upon time” (Ghosh 17). History is written by the victorious, influential and powerful; however, history has forgotten the people whose voices were seized, those who were illiterate and ineloquent, and most importantly those who were oppressed by the institution of casted societies. Because history does not document those voices, it is the duty to the anthropologist, the historiographer, the philosopher as well as scholars in other fields of studies to dig for those lost people in the forgotten realm of time. In In An Antique Land, the footnotes of letters reveal critical information for the main character, which thematically expresses that under the surface of history is something more than the world can fathom.
Moreover, the main character of this arguably structural fictional novel, travelogue and biography, which encompasses both historical and biographical events, begins his journey through the truths of studying eleventh century Egypt. Amitav places himself in the story as a doctoral student who is given the opportunity to study social anthropology. As we learned and discussed throughout this course, there are a variety of methods in which to study religion. Social anthropology focuses on“the study of human beings and societies viewed primarily as both the creators and the creations of culture . . . sociology of religion . . . focuses its attention on social behavior and the way in which religion interacts with other dimensions of our social experience” (Livingston 21).
From the perspective of a social anthropologist, Amitav in bewilderment and does not know what to study relative to his academic responsibilities. However, hope is given when Amitav discovers letters written between Khalaf ibn Ishaq and his friend and business partner Abraham Ben Yiju in a Medieval Egyptian synagogue, in a chamber known as Geniz. Ben Yiju is a rather distinguished man; a poet, a calligrapher, and scholar, Abraham is a Tunisian Jewish merchant who he discovers had a slave named Bomma, in which he would have not known of ifit weren’t for him being mentioned in the letters. Prior to moving to India, Abraham lived in Egypt for many years an aspect that Amitav is intrigued by because of his Indian origins. He is able to infer various aspects of the life of Bomma such as where he was born, his religious affiliation and his journey through the Middle East. The main arguments of In an Antique Land questions what is academically considered historiographical study. It challenges the idea that evidence of society, specifically the lives of people in history need to be concrete in order to be relevant in academia.
In An Antique Land focuses on the Judeo-Christian...