The Calcutta Chromosome

Posted by : atcampbell | On : November 3, 1998

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

Eight people showed up for the discussion of Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Calcutta Chromosome. Five had finished the book, and the others hadn’t had time to read much of it. Although this is not Ghosh’s first book, it’s his first to be marketed to SF readers. The story concerns a medical historian working on the biography of a British Army doctor who made early significant breakthroughs in malaria research. In the course of his studies, the historian begins to suspect that the doctor, who did this research while stationed in Calcutta, may have had guidance from an unknown source. Traveling to India for more information, the historian stumbles across a deep network of secret societies and conspiracies before uncovering the “secret history” of malaria research.

We liked this book a lot. The author’s writing style was compelling, and it evoked a mysterious and surreal atmosphere. The characters were well drawn and complex, and each had a distinct speaking pattern. The story had a lot of energy, and the precise descriptions of Indian culture communicated an other-worldly flavor.

Unlike many SF novels, this book does not tie up all its loose ends neatly. We learn a lot and want to find out more, but many details (the final fate of certain characters, for example) seem to be left for the reader to ponder. We attributed this mostly to the author not having come from a science fiction background. He seems to be working within a mainstream literary tradition, which has different reading and writing conventions.

We liked this novel so much that we didn’t mind a few loose ends. We enjoyed the digression into mainstream literature. We felt that this was an excellent novel, and we look forward for more from this author.

— A. T. Campbell, III