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am 21. März 2009
The indian author came upon old manuscripts to traces of a juwish-arabian merchant of the 12nd century. He travelled into the Egypt of our days, takes residence in a small Arabian village, dives into the life of the locals and seeks fort he connection to the arabian middle ages with its lively cultural and economic relations.
Here the author tries to bring to a relationship the arabian-muslim and indian-hindu cultures, or rather make visible what was once related. A rare and strange undertaking!
It is also laudable when somebody like Gosh plies such a thing with such a fervour almost sacrificially. But for the author, himself a Hindu, it is only conclusive, after he had set this goal under the knowledge of the old manuscripts to explore the life story of the late merchant who swang between the worlds like the author himself.
The reader follows, hears a lot about the life style and life philosophy of the Egyptian Fellas. The author disposes of sufficient humour to set skilfully counterpoints to the at that time fertile interactions of the cultures, because the Fellas regard the Indian culture as backward. But their arguments show their own backwardness. The author can even renounce to take a position himself. So striking is the credo of the muslims a testimony of their ignorance and backwardness.

Well done depiction of Egyptian village life! And even believable! But the uneducated of other cultural circles do not show more interests or understanding for the others. For this intra-cultural clash, as well sympathy-courtship for humanity in the social intercourse, the author pays a high expense. I doubt that so many people are interested to hear what a certain Jewish merchant in the 12th century in Mangalore, South India had to do and if his mistress did well.

The subtitle "A journey into the past of the Orient" is correct, but awakens expectations that are not satisfied. The courtesy-book-recensions of certain magazines and news-papers are mere exaggeration. Widely the book is simply boring and this I say as somebody who has travelled a lot in the Orient and India.
An example is when he explains the custom of burial. The Fellas ask him why the Indians burn theirs. He answers, he does not know, it is just the custom and it was already the custom before he was born. He had nothing to do with it!
Typical Gosh! He does not take a position when it comes to ideology. Only once he is drawn out when India is called backward. No, India is superior to Egypt, has more bombs etc.

The idea for this book was good, the execution seems to be mostly not inspired. The book has to be for ingrained Orient-fans, - perhaps. At least the author seems to have researched very thoroughly. That deserves acknowledgement, but this is what a reader who does not want to read a novel expects.
Well done is the passage about the possession of the Malabar coast by the Europeans. The Indians only had the choice between resistance and submission, cooperation was not offered to them.
Incapable to compete in trade with only commercial means, the Europeans attempted to bring it under control with aggressions. They unleashed violence in dimensions unknown to the coast. Nothing much has changed one thinks rather often when reading the book.
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am 9. Mai 2000
This is a must read book. Ghosh somehow weaves together the history of Cairo, a traveling Jewish merchant, marginalization, the fate of 2nd world countries, and a diary of his time in Egypt-- and makes it really, lively, and relavant to anyone's life. and it is written in a lovely, lyrical style
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am 30. Mai 2000
But it does! This book takes three part-stories, dry academic scholarship, adapting to life in a completely different culture and a slave in 12th century Egypt, that are each individually neither compelling nor fulfilling. Yet the sum of the three parts is both compelling and fulfilling. The narrative jumps from story to story skillfully, creating tensions in each story line that would otherwise be absent and drawing the reader onward. Amitav Ghosh is a wonderful writer of lyric descriptions and this book is lovingly fulled with them, adding embellishments to the otherwise simple stories. Everything comes together to produce a book as good as his Shadow Lines.
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am 16. August 1999
A stupifying experience to read about the experience of one ofthe most prolific, original, fantasy writers from India. This bookdeals with the delicate norms of the life led in the rural Egypt. The book catches the knowledge even though little, of the people about India in Egypt. And to compare the lifestyles which existed between the two countries in two different periods of history has been done to the delight of the aged historian. The subtle existence of similarity in two proclaimed dis-similar cultures is definitely a forte for the mastercraftsman called Amitav. Surely, a delight for all the readers who want to have an alternate view of travelogues and who love to read about cultures which exists in the deepest parts of the world. A well-written book in general. Let us expect some more interesting writings from the author in the area of travel literature!!!
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am 19. November 1997
This is a _very_ challenging and rewarding book. The interweaving of ancient and contemporary history summons the reader's skills of comparison and interpolation. Ghosh knew exactly when to switch time-frames in order to contrast regional attitudes then and now.
Especially interesting is the revelation of ancient slavery: it was not at all the brutal forced-labor familiar to American history; in this case it was more like the adoption of a foster son.

Highly recommended to those interested in an unusual slant on Moslem or Jewish culture.
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am 15. November 1999
This is one of the most outstanding books I have ever read. Ghosh's narrative is both textured and thorough, and he communicates masterfully the relationships between periods and people separated by hundreds of years.
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