In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I forget what made me grab this book it an put it on Mt. Bookpile but whatever instinct that was, it was a good one!
This is an odd book, part history, part personal memoir, and the intertwining of the two doesn't always work well. Ghosh is intrigued by mention of a slave, an Indian owned by a Jew, Ben Yiju, some 700 years earlier; the scraps of information found in the Cairo Geniza provide tantalizing clues to the existence of both Ben Yiju and the man Ghosh eventually names Bomma, and his travels to Egypt and Mangalore help (somewhat) to fill in the blanks. It's hard to read this without spending time researching some of the places, people and events, making it a longer read than I anticipated.
The non-history part is about that author's time staying in Egypt, during the 1980s, in a couple of rather poor villages. The characters he meets are interesting, with a range of awareness about the outside world and modern times that is, at times, breathtaking. A The idea that one can travel from their village to Ghosh's Indian village by donkey? One would think that even in the 80s people would know that couldn't happen... but not here! It's also easier to understand the Indian problems between Hindus and Muslims once you hear what these Egyptians think of the Hindu religious practices.
A worthwhile read for the social history alone!