Variation on a Theme: “Why Did I Finish This” Friday: Review of “The Calcutta Chromosome” by Amitav Ghosh

Why I Read This

I loved The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, and thus eagerly picked up this other novel by him. Unfortunately, it did not win me over in the same way. This book – part fantasy, part horror story, and part a tale of science-gone-bad – lacks the strong development of character and place that is so appealing in The Glass Palace. Instead, it is plot driven, and the plot can most succinctly be described as “weird.”

Believe It Or Not, This Is The Plot

The “Calcutta Chromosome” of the title concerns a chromosome that can be transmitted via malaria injected into syphilitics which is then transformed with a little help from decapitated pigeon heads into a gene conferring a bit of immortality to new recipients, who will reveal to you what they’re up to, but if they tell you they have to kill you. Black magic is also a part of the transference process, as you might expect….


I was very disappointed. The plot is annoyingly opaque and dare I say stupid, and the characters seem only to have been included to move it along. In the end, I felt the story lacked significance and gravitas. Ghosh is a good writer. Maybe he was bitten by one too many mosquitoes when he wrote this.

Rating: 1.5/5

Published by William Morrow, 1997


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25 Responses to Variation on a Theme: “Why Did I Finish This” Friday: Review of “The Calcutta Chromosome” by Amitav Ghosh

  1. caite says:

    wow, I don’t often say this, but that sounds pretty awful.

  2. JoV says:

    Always wanted to read the Glass Palace or “the Red Poppies in the Sea”. But I’m going to listen to you and leave this alone.

    Stuff like that best leave it to the master the likes of Michael Crichton.

  3. Marie says:

    Um, yeah. I don’t think this would work for me either! 🙂
    RE: your comment on my Friday Finds- giving up chocolate is one I’ve done from time to time and it works well- I can do it, and I don’t feel TOO miserably deprived! I think I’ learned that I love books more than chocolate because I can’t give up my books!

  4. Julie P. says:

    UGH! I can’t believe you stuck with it!

  5. Diane says:

    Thanks for the heads up and sorry you had to endure this. (I have this one on my shelf (unread) but I am looking for books to donate so sounds like this one fits the bill 🙂

  6. bermudaonion says:

    That just stinks. Kudos to you for finishing it.

  7. Richard says:

    I’m shocked that Ghosh’s novel lacked the gravitas you apparently found in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Jill! Kidding, only kidding! “Believe It Or Not, This Is The Plot” is a great heading, though–and sounds perfectly appropriate for what you describe. Thanks for the warning!

  8. I did not understand one word of the plot!! The cover is ugly so being such a cover snob I would’ve passed this one up and saved myself the embarrassment of not knowing what the heck was going on!! 😀

  9. Steph says:

    What a completely bizarre sounding book! I was with you up until the decapitated pigeon heads. Maybe it’s amazing I made it that far…

  10. Aarti says:

    That IS a bizarre plot! Wow, and so different from Ghosh’s usual fare, isn’t it? Sad 😦 I will not be picking this one up!

    PS- Pigeon heads conferring immortality?! Really?!

  11. Margot says:

    Weird and stupid would make anyone close the book. The plot is so bad it made me laugh out loud. Sorry for the hours you wasted.

  12. Alyce says:

    Thanks for the warning!

  13. Ugh, this sounds awful. I’ll give it a wide berth!

  14. Jenners says:

    Why did you finish it I wonder? Was it like a car accident … so bad you couldn’t look away?

  15. Sandy says:

    Holy cow, that is quite the stretch. I like this feature though. Just keep on reading these gems so we don’t have to Jill!

  16. softdrink says:

    Gee, tell us how you really feel. 😀

  17. Mystica says:

    I have read Sea of Poppies and found it glorious! How disappointing now to read this on Ghosh.

  18. Rita K says:

    And I tried “Sea of Poppies” and could not get through it at all.

  19. Belle says:

    That’s definitely quite a plot line!

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    You totally lost me with the plot. I’m glad to see a 1.5 rating. I always feel guilty when I give low ratings.

  21. Thanks for the warning! I also read Glass Palace and loved it so I am looking forward to another Ghosh novel. I will steer clear of this one – I have heard Sea of Poppies is good.

  22. Nymeth says:

    lol @ the mosquitoes comment 😛 Ah well…bring on the next good book!

  23. Ti says:

    This sounds dreadful. Even the cover makes me a bit ill.

  24. Valerie says:

    I have “Sea of Poppies” in my TBR. I guess every good author is allowed one experimental work that doesn’t work very well; sounds like this was Ghosh’s.

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