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THE CALCUTTA CHROMOSOME by Amitav Ghosh

THE CALCUTTA CHROMOSOME

By Amitav Ghosh

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-380-97585-8
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

 New Yorker journalist and novelist Ghosh (The Shadow Lines, 1989, etc.) returns, this time with a confusing blur of science fiction, satire, epistemology, and ethnic alienation. When AVA/IIe, a nearly omniscient global computer system of the LifeWatch department in the densely bureaucratic International Water Council, discovers a fragment of an ID lost in the sea of information, Antar, a lonely, widower Egyptian who crunches numbers on the system in his drab Manhattan apartment, innocently directs the computer to reconstruct it, simultaneously activating hidden resources within the system while also jogging Antar's memory of the manic L. Murugan. Murugan (also known, with a cross-cultural wink, as Mr. Morgan) is a fastidious Indian and former LifeWatch employee whose obsession with malaria research compelled him to transfer to Calcutta in 1995, after which he abruptly vanished. As he did in The Shadow Lines, Ghosh jumbles chronology here, hopping restively from Murugan's feverishly surrealistic Calcutta to a chatty luncheon in which Murugan lectures interminably about malaria, then back to 1895, where Victorian scientists stumble on a Calcutta cabal in which individuals biologically transfer their personalities to achieve a kind of genetic reincarnation. At the heart of this dizzy mess is a comic examination of identity in an evolving multicultural milieu, but Ghosh's trademark touch for absurdist magical realism (The Circle of Reason) and ironic cultural clashes (the nonfiction In an Antique Land, 1993) renders the story this time both unreasonable and unbelievable. Densely intricate, logorrheic spoof of commercial suspense fiction from a skilled writer who should know better. (First printing of 40,000)