When Climate Change Is Stranger Than Fiction

Ghosh came up with the idea for “Gun Island” in the early 2000s when he was researching another novel, “The Hungry Tide,” that explores the rivers of the Sundarbans, whose ecosystem supports the endangered Bengal tiger and thousands of other species. But Ghosh could already see the impact of climate change: bigger waves and worsening cyclones that hindered farming. That shift, over the years, has directly or indirectly forced a sizable number of the four million inhabitants of the Sundarbans to flee to parts of India and Bangladesh.

“Gun Island” is likely to resonate in Italy, said Anna Nadotti, his friend and Italian translator of over 30 years, as the country grapples with an influx of migrants fleeing war, persecution and climate crises. “Politically, socially and also culturally, it’s important to give people all the means to understand what is really happening, why all these people are coming,” she said.

“Even if sometimes in ‘Gun Island’ Amitav invents, nothing is fictional,” she added, pointing out a scene from the book that is familiar to many Italians: a boat full of migrants, stranded at sea because it has been denied permission to dock.

At one point in “Gun Island,” Deen arrives in Los Angeles for an antiquarian book dealers conference at a museum. Wildfires burn nearby. The conference, at first, goes on. But soon, the bibliophiles, librarians and book dealers are told to evacuate because the winds are changing direction, making the blaze’s path increasingly unpredictable.

It seems to mirror when fires came perilously close to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2017, raising concerns they would destroy the artifacts inside. Ghosh said he wrote the scene six months earlier.

Later in the story, Deen confronts a freakish hailstorm and fierce “gusts of winds” in Venice. Two months ago, the real-life city was battered by hailstones and winds powerful enough to toss a cruise ship about.

That a novel seems to anticipate some of these unusual weather events is proof to Ghosh that literature should devote more attention to the environment.

“Fact,” he said, “is outrunning fiction.”

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