A novel about climate change’s impact on all of us

In Gun Island, Amitav Ghosh practices what he preached in The Great Derangement.

Where and what are the Sundar­bans? This is the first thing most readers might want to look up as they try to understand Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel, which attempts to link the global impact of climate change to the everyday realities of people in several different major cities.

Gun Island follows the story of Dinanath “Deen” Datta, an Indian man who relocated to the American Midwest for graduate school before settling down as a rare book dealer based in Brooklyn. Deen doesn’t seem the type to go looking for adventure. In fact, he very nearly turns down the invitation that leads him into the novel’s unfolding series of events. This characterization appears deliberate. It’s as though Ghosh wants the novel’s intellectually curious but comfortably distant readers to see themselves in Deen’s discomfort, confusion, and skepticism.

Deen’s adventure is driven by the type of academic mystery that readers may associate with Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. He wants to explore the unknown origin of a legend written in hieroglyphics on an old, hidden shrine tucked away on an island in the Sundarbans—the mangrove forest that spreads across the lands amid the confluence of rivers between India and Bangla­desh. From the Sundarbans, Deen’s search leads him to New York, Los Angeles, and Venice. It connects him to marine biologists and con men, to climate refugees and the criminals who take advantage of them.