It is in his home town of Kolkata that Dr Anil Kumar Munshi meets, by chance, his distant relative Kanai Dutt, who upends his view of the world with a single word: bundook. Gun.
A writer and folklorist, Munshi has for years dedicated his research to the Halders of Raskhal, a once grand land-owning family, in whose downfall he sees the seed of his own misfortunes - his serial divorces and history of mental instability the legacy of his long-dead kinswoman, whose cruel impoverishment and suffering at the hands of that great family has been handed down from generation to generation. Now, at Kanai's briefest suggestion, he realizes that this family legacy may have deeper roots still, in the tale of a merchant that Munshi had always understood to be the stuff of Bengali legend.
As the ground beneath him shifts, Munshi sets out on an extraordinary journey that will take him from Kolkata to Venice and Sicily via a tangled route through the memories of those he meets along the way. What emerges is an extraordinary portrait of a man groping toward a sense of what is happening around him, struggling to grasp, from within his accepted understanding of the world, the reality with which he is presented.
Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He grew up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He studied at the universities of Delhi and Oxford and published the first of eight novels, The Circle of Reason in 1986. He currently divides his time between Calcutta, Goa and Brooklyn. The first novel in his Ibis trilogy, Sea of Poppies, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.