The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

I was sorely tempted to review this in conjunction with Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which if I had to put it in a genre, I would call historical fiction. Yet the two books could scarcely be more different. Ishiguro gives you an idea of a period, it’s hazy, impressionistic. Ghosh is very precise about historical themes. The book is sweeping – panoramic – but his focus is not on detail. If one might call World War one, for instance, a ‘detail’, it is noted in passing, perhaps in no more than a sentence, whilst the process of logging teak in Burma (as it was for most of the story) is told in depth over various settings and periods.

In principle I disapprove of historical fiction. Read a history book if you want history. Go the hard yards, fiction author. Don’t rely on historical filler to make up for your lack of story. But the fact is that I swallowed up all 500 pages of this in a couple of days and (obviously) was pleased to do so. I felt like I was there for every moment of the book. I was in the Glass Palace, I was in the jungle, I was on a rubber plantation in Singapore and various settings in India. Presumably that’s about as high praise as this sort of book can get.

It’s my first book by Ghosh, but I can see I’m going to have to try another.



9 thoughts on “The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

  1. I NEVER get my historical facts from fiction, I am smart enough to know that I should only trust Goodreads reviews.

  2. I’m with you. I don’t like historical fiction, yet there’s some unclassifiable books, -and Buried Giant is as you say one of them, one which I’ve read twice and that you aptly called hazy and impressionistic-, I’ll add Slaughterhouse Five, even Vonnegut’s other title, Sirens of Titan, both being about WWII and wars but NOT at the same time.

    In any case, I’m inclined to pick this one up because of your comment of having swallowed it up, and your dislike for historical fiction. This must be good in a way to have had that effect on you.

    • Yes, Vonnegut – those particular books – is a good example. I do often think that fiction can be at least emotionally enlightening in a way fact can’t, but that isn’t a comment on ‘historical fiction’. EG Hotel Rwanda vs watching newspaper reports as it was happening. It’s really important that these things are talked about in fiction.

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