Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale” as Want to Read:
In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,550 ratings  ·  131 reviews
Once upon a time an Indian writer named Amitav Ghosh set out an Indian slave, name unknown, who some seven hundred years before had traveled to the Middle East. The journey took him to a small village in Egypt, where medieval customs coexist with twentieth-century desires and discontents. But even as Ghosh sought to re-create the life of his Indian predecessor, he found hi ...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published July 20th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1993)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about In an Antique Land, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about In an Antique Land

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Naeem
I would rate this book as perhaps the most important book I have read in my life. Top five or 10 at least.

Not least because it creates a new genre -- we have yet to give it a name. But most importantly it struggles to arrive at how "temporal displacement" is not merely some theoretical device invented by tenuring academics, but rather something that everyday people in the 3rd world actually feel and experience.

Not least because it demonstrates the power of the archive; the ability of the West
...more
Irene Black
In the early 1980s Amitav Ghosh was living in rural Egypt, engaged in field world for his social anthropology doctorate. In this book Ghosh plaits together three different stories: that of his time living in two Egyptian villages, his return to the villages eight years later and the life of 12th century North African Jewish merchant Ben Yiju and his Indian `slave' (actually more of a business associate) Bomma. Ghosh discovered the Ben Yiju story by examining documents from the massive haul found ...more
Greg
I bought In An Antique Land from a small bookshop in Mussoorie, a lovely town in Northern India. I read it while travelling in Northern India Dec 2012-Jan 2013. I love this magical book. The story is like nothing I've read before. A mix of antiquity, the interaction of several faiths and contemporary travels and the author researching records of a 12th century slave. Amitav Ghosh is an extraordinarily gifted writer.
One gets to know the slave and his master, who is a merchant. The slave is entrus
...more
Jeff
This turned out to be a really lovely book. I couldn't make up my mind about it for the first 100 pages or so, because although the narrator provides some interesting cultural anecdotes about the small towns in Egypt where he was living, he doesn't insert himself into the narrative in a way that becomes productive or reflective for the reader.

That changes about half-way through the book, however, when he begins to push back from becoming a stereotyped expatriate, and describes an incredibly vivi
...more
Anil Swarup
No where near the best from Amitav, yet eminently readable because the immaculate research and the prose so typical of him. He is one of the few who can come up with subtly remarkable criticism of the west: " Unable to compete in the Indian Ocean trade by purely commercial means, the Europeans were bent on taking control of it by aggression, pure and distilled, by unleashing violence on a scale unprecedented on those shores". He goes on to state further: " the determination of a small, united ba ...more
Jeanne
Sep 15, 2007 Jeanne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in history and the politics of religion
A complex, layered novel steeped in etymology and irony. Based on the experiences of anthropologist Amitav Ghosh while he studied in a hamlet in Egypt. Woven into those modern experiences are stories of the medieval composition of the Holy Land. Really worth reading. Elegantly written.
To get the most of this book, don't be afraid to wiki references (Galen, Maimonides) for a historical context and also it's good to have a pretty decent working knowledge of Muslim and Hindi culture.
Abhinav Jaganathan
In an Antique land for me was a very different experience...It was the first time I read a journal/memoir kind of non fictional account of an author's travels. I started out expecting some really good medeival tales from Ben Yiju and the slave but it was Ghosh's own experiences in Egypt that proved more intriguing and better to me. This is my first Amitav Ghosh book and I really didn't know it was non fiction until I was 30 pages into it. By then I found it really informative and I thought what ...more
Gabrielle
Ghosh has a fantastically open and honest voice. A wonderful interweaving of past and present. This is how I like my history written. Medieval Islamic culture, India and Her trade with Egypt and Arabia, the Jewish diaspora and a discovery of medieval documents in a synagogue in the Old Town in Cairo and our modern fracture lines... the The common thread here, and common, I may add to most contemporary Indian writers with good reason, is the shifting and surprisingly amorphous boundaries between ...more
Diane
I think and talk about this book a lot. I listened to it on CD, and think it would have been better for me to have read it - there are numerous names that all mushed together for me (like in a Russian novel) that would have been easier if I had visual clues.

There are several stories. First, the story of the author, an Indian(actually a Bengali) and a Hindu, living in a very small, rural Egyptian village. I never quite figured out what exactly he was doing there other than that he was an anthro
...more
Joel
An interesting weave of non-fiction and fiction. I liked the Egyptian history and hearing stories about their fellaheen customs. Many of the Ben Yiju and his slave sub-stories were long winded accounts of trivial interactions that, most of the time, didn't really add anything to the more interesting central story of "ya Doktor" traveling about the small villages of Egypt as an outsider. Overall, the Ben Yiju sub-plot added to the past-meets-present theme of the book, but it almost had a Biblical ...more
James
This had a lot of promise, but didn't really live up to it. It's a parallel history of a Middle Eastern Jew and his slave from the 12th century, alongside Ghosh's own experience in 1970s/80s Egypt. The point was to provide a kind of contrapuntal narrative, but I never felt like they cohered very well. I also thought it degenerated into a pretty traditional tale of "The Middle East was a place of wonder and cultural dialogue and peace before the West came and ruined everything." His own narrative ...more
Audra
4 star? 5 star? It's a book I'm happy, happy reading and want to keep for years. Ghosh uses his notes from a year (1980) doing research in Egypt and living in a small village to create a vivid story of people, place, connections/disconnections between Egypt and India, in both the late 20th and mid-12th centuries. Plus, in these days of hopeful unrest in Egypt, it gives a glimpse of some changes going on 30 years ago that make the present seem almost inevitable. (The more Ghosh I read, the more a ...more
Chris
In an Antique Land is a strange and, at least for me, unsatisfying mix of Ghosh's account of spending several years in the 1970's in farming communities in the Egyptian delta, and his research and reimagining of the life of a so-called slave to a Jewish merchant in India in the 12th century. The passages about Ghosh's time in Egypt are fascinating and recount the rapidly changing yet still traditional villages and interactions with the people he meets there. As a stand alone work, it would have ...more
Murali Neelakantan
After reading The Glass Palace, The Sea of Poppies and Dancing in Cambodia, In an Antique Land is very much a disappointment. There seems to be quite an effort to connect his stay in a village in Egypt in the 1990s with the life of Ben Yiju, a Jewish trader who spent about two decades in Malabar during the twelfth century. One really struggles to see the point of the book. If it was to tell us the story of the trading connections between Aden and Malabar and the life of Ben Yiju, by the author's ...more
Kerry
This remains my favorite of Amitav's books. The interweaving of history and travel is unique and still unprecedented for its combination of ethnographic insight and fascination with people. Once a gentleman caller of mine when we were both at Oxford University, Amitav's voice and candor come through as if it were just yesterday when we last spoke. There is nothing false or flamboyant about his writing style - it is both elegant and accessible. And he is still quite a handsome.

For me, it's a tie
...more
Malini
Dec 05, 2007 Malini rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rebekka Istrail
This is a book about the fragments in the present that link back to a rich interwoven world of so many years ago. A great book that goes far beyond the stereotypes about Judaism, Islam, and India.
Laura
I forget what made me grab this book it an put it on Mt. Bookpile but whatever instinct that was, it was a good one!

This is an odd book, part history, part personal memoir, and the intertwining of the two doesn't always work well. Ghosh is intrigued by mention of a slave, an Indian owned by a Jew, Ben Yiju, some 700 years earlier; the scraps of information found in the Cairo Geniza provide tantalizing clues to the existence of both Ben Yiju and the man Ghosh eventually names Bomma, and his trave
...more
Mariana
I had very mixed feelings about this book and it was not one that I could read for long stretches at a time.
I should probably say from the start that one of the reasons I read it is because I absolutely loved a later book of his called "Sea of Poppies" and am waiting for the second part to come out. From that point of view it was very interesting as it gave me an insight into the author as a person, his background and what led him to Sea of Poppies. The descriptions of village life in Egypt wer
...more
Irene Black
In the early 1980s Amitav Ghosh was living in rural Egypt, engaged in field world for his social anthropology doctorate. In this book Ghosh plaits together three different stories: that of his time living in two Egyptian villages, his return to the villages eight years later and the life of 12th century North African Jewish merchant Ben Yiju and his Indian `slave' (actually more of a business associate) Bomma. Ghosh discovered the Ben Yiju story by examining documents from the massive haul found ...more
Emilade
There are parts that I really related to, like when the people of the village ask thousands of questions of Ghosh and he becomes tired and reluctant to answer them, very much like anyone living abroad. Or when Jabir comes home from college and is a little lost with what to do next. Its comforting that these experiences continue in various places and times.

I enjoyed the way different traditions were portrayed in the book, things were explained well with anecdotes to provide insight and understand
...more
Celia
[Review from 2009] It's hard to even explain what Amitav Ghosh is doing in his book. He has entwined together a multiplicity of stories: his own experience as an Indian ethnographer in Egypt, the experiences over time and space of the rural "fellah" Egyptian men with whom he lived, his exploration of the past through historical archives, and the stories he uncovers, of widespread movement and trade in the Indian Ocean prior to the arrival of the Portuguese and their monopoly of Indian Ocean trad ...more
Sophia Lee
So much promise, but didn't deliver.

I almost stopped reading without finishing because there were just some parts that were muddy like a dry, history tome that jarred with the author's own memoir. The author's experience was much more interesting and entertaining than that of some Jewish merchant in Middle Age India. I suppose he tried his best, but he just didn't have enough substance to make a good, cohesive story out of the ancient character whose only survival is evidenced through old lette
...more
Suresh
The subject of this book, trade and cultural interchange between India and North Africa (and the Far East as well to some extent), told through the story of the Indian, Bomma, slave of a Tunisian Jewish Merchant in the 11th century who settled in Mangalore, is quite interesting and a refreshing look at history. For one, Ghosh manages to bring a seemingly lost history back to life and sets the events of the slave and his master's life in context that makes for interesting reading. Also Ghosh's an ...more
Mark Richard
Love the subtitle, History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale, which is the very essence of good historical fiction. I came to this book by an avid reader who lives in Palm Desert. She knew I was writing my next book in the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine : The Journey East. Everything I knew about the Second Crusade involved French-Germas vs Turkish-Arab-Persians. I suspected, but had no idea how critical the Indian trade was with the Middle-East.

Amitav Ghosh transports us through the first person
...more
Fazackerly Toast
I suppose the reasons Ghosh is so much better than Katherine Boo at imparting reality to the people he portrays in this book is that first of all, he's a novelist, so he knows how to breathe life into characters, secondly, that he learned Arabic and lived with the people he speaks of over an extended period of time, and finally, that he really liked and cared for these people, as they evidently did for him. You get a sense of the warmth and engagement that he as a person must give out, which bri ...more
Mustafa
In In an Antique Land, Amitav Ghosh intertwines the story of the life of medieval Jewish trader, Abraham Ben Yiju, with an account of his own journeyings as an anthropology student in a rural Egyptian community in the early 1980s.

The tale of Ben Yiju’s life is painstakingly pieced together by Ghosh from fragments of letters ‘discovered’ by Western scholars in a Cairo synagogue in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the stories of the agricultural communities of Lataifa and Nashawy, where
...more
PP
I almost forgot why I loved 'The Glass Palace' so much. Reading only my second Amitav Ghosh book - set centuries and worlds apart, one fiction, the other reportedly not, and above it all, over a decade between the two readings - but I still notice little things about the author's style that I greatly relish and appreciate. This book is a clever amalgam of Ghosh's experience during his own travels through Egypt, his study of history and anthropology, a fascinating tale of a slave's journey in the ...more
Ahmed
Amitav Ghosh is essayist and blogger as well as novelist, and it was the sheer pleasure from some of his essays and blog posts that induced me to take on one of his novels.

Of his work this book appealed to me most, due to half-remembered reviews describing it as a melange of genres, of nationalities, of languages, cultures, professions, and eras. And because Ghosh in "Confessions of a Xenophile" says his time in Egypt was "my equivalent of writing school. While living in [the governorate of] Beh
...more
Veronica Bolts
I read this book for a English class. It was a 100 level English class and this book was the most complex and well written book out the bunch...Amitav Ghosh exposes that modernity has come to focus on the purity of ones religion, to the point that it is esteemed above living harmonious with others. Religious intolerance is ultimately tied together with the consequences of the past. At one point in time a Jewish man – Ben Yiju married a Hindi woman and also had an Islamic slave and they all lived ...more
Crystal
After reading this book, you may well come away asking yourself is we are really as 'modern' as we think we are. The amount of tolerance and connection Ghosh unearths in the Medieval Middle East is astonishing. Ghosh is a tremendously perceptive writer and manages to write a 'travelogue' that not only moves the reader around the globe but also through history. A one of kind book in my experience so far!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
  • Writing Women's Worlds: Bedouin Stories
  • Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran
  • A Border Passage: From Cairo to America – A Woman's Journey
  • Adi Parva - Churning of the Ocean
  • Cairo: The City Victorious
  • Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah
  • Venice
  • The Jokers
  • The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East
  • Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject
  • Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village
  • A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
  • The Lost Heart of Asia
  • Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus
  • In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
  • The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance
  • The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit
3369
Amitav Ghosh is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. His most recent novel, Sea of Poppies, is the first volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexan
...more
More about Amitav Ghosh...
The Glass Palace Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1) The Hungry Tide The Shadow Lines River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy, #2)

Share This Book

“A bare two years after Vasco da Gama’s voyage a Portuguese fleet led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived on the Malabar coast. Cabral delivered a letter from the king of Portugal to the Samudri (Samudra-raja or Sea-king), the Hindu ruler of the city-state of Calicut, demanding that he expel all Muslims from his kingdom as they were enemies of the ‘Holy Faith’. He met with a blank refusal; then afterwards the Samudra steadfastly maintained that Calicut had always been open to everyone who wished to trade there…

During those early years the people who had traditionally participated in the Indian Ocean trade were taken completely by surprise. In all the centuries in which it had flourished and grown, no state or kings or ruling power had ever before tried to gain control of the Indian Ocean trade by force of arms. The territorial and dynastic ambitions that were pursued with such determination on land were generally not allowed to spill over into the sea.

Within the Western historiographical record the unarmed character of the Indian Ocean trade is often represented as a lack, or failure, one that invited the intervention of Europe, with its increasing proficiency in war. When a defeat is as complete as was that of the trading cultures of the Indian Ocean, it is hard to allow the vanquished the dignity of nuances of choice and preference. Yet it is worth allowing for the possibility that the peaceful traditions of the oceanic trade may have been, in a quiet and inarticulate way, the product of a rare cultural choice — one that may have owed a great deal to the pacifist customs and beliefs of the Gujarati Jains and Vanias who played such an important part in it. At the time, at least one European was moved to bewilderment by the unfamiliar mores of the region; a response more honest perhaps than the trust in historical inevitability that has supplanted it since. ‘The heathen [of Gujarat]’, wrote Tomé Pires, early in the sixteenth century, ‘held that they must never kill anyone, nor must they have armed men in their company. If they were captured and [their captors] wanted to kill them all, they did not resist. This is the Gujarat law among the heathen.’

It was because of those singular traditions, perhaps, that the rulers of the Indian Ocean ports were utterly confounded by the demands and actions of the Portuguese. Having long been accustomed to the tradesmen’s rules of bargaining and compromise they tried time and time again to reach an understanding with the Europeans — only to discover, as one historian has put it, that the choice was ‘between resistance and submission; co-operation was not offered.’ Unable to compete in the Indian Ocean trade by purely commercial means, the Europeans were bent on taking control of it by aggression, pure and distilled, by unleashing violence on a scale unprecedented on those shores.”
3 likes
“Ana (it is I)” 2 likes
More quotes…