Book Review The Nutmeg's Curse

Wealth is Something that is desired not for the material satisfaction that it brings but because it is desired by others.

Adam Smith
Why I picked this book?

The Nutmeg’s CurseParables for A Planet In Crisis a book by Amitav Ghosh, a respected and celebrated author. I have heard about his work but never read any of his books. This book was received well by the readers and critics.

The book is about history, politics, colonialism, rapid industrialization, capitalism, and its adverse effect on our planet. These are the subjects which I like to read to know more about them, so I decided to read this one.

The book

The Nutmeg’s Curse – Parables for A Planet In Crisis as the name might suggest is about the ecological crisis planet earth is facing. The author draws our attention to how colonialism has destroyed our planet in the past and still destroying our planet in other forms of colonization. In the last fifty years the many wars we fought, the rapid industrialization, the ever-increasing consumerism, and the growth of unchecked capitalism have all led to what the author calls “omnicide”.

Inside the Book

The book starts with a description of a tiny island Banda, part of Indonesia, famous for its Nutmeg. Dutch East Indies company landed on this Island in the Seventeenth century and colonized it. Because nutmeg was found abundantly on this island and was in high demand in Europe. They annihilated the local population and local ecology to grow more and more nutmeg to fulfill the demand in Europe.

The author argues that today we might say that we have moved away from the past when “plants and botanical matter could decide the fate of human beings”. But that is far from the truth, we are even more dependent on the botanical matter than we were three hundred years ago or far back in the past. The dependence on coal, and natural gas is nothing but dependence on the fossilized form of botanical matter.

If we put aside the myth-making of modernity, in which humans are triumphantly free of material dependence on the planet and acknowledge the reality of our ever-increasing servitudes to the products of Earth, the story of Bandanese no longer seems so distant from our present predicament. To the contrary, it could even be said that the fate of the Banda Islands might be read as a template for the present, if only we knew how to tell that story.

To make a connection and to understand we need to know what happened in Banda Islands and the people living there. In the greed of growing more and more of Nutmeg for profit, the inhabitants were exterminated. The ecology was ruined and Nutmeg trees were grown everywhere causing an ecological imbalance.

There are many such stories of extermination of the local inhabitants like in America. Many wars were fought to colonize people and to have control over the natural resources of the land. The author says that all these are leading us to an end. The brilliant part is how the author connects the past events of history to the present situation we are in and tells us what we can learn from it.

The author points out that the “great acceleration” of the last fifty years is the main reason for the climate crisis that we are in right now. The sad part is we are still not acknowledging and learning from it. And the race for this “great acceleration” is all over the world causing even more damage to our planet. Ironically, it is happening in India as well. The country which was colonized for nearly two hundred years and has gone through the atrocities of colonialism.

In India, over the last three decades, the beliefs, practices, and livelihoods of forest peoples have come under attack as never before. In hideous mimicries of the settler-colonial treatment of Indigenous peoples, more and more forest areas have been opened up to mining and tourism industries, sometimes with the support of exclusionary conservationists, who advocate the removal of forest-dwellers in the name of ecology. Forest peoples’ sacred mountains have been desecrated, their lands have been swamped by dams, and their beliefs and rituals have come under attack as “primitive superstitions” – exactly the terms once used by the colonial administrators, scientists, and missionaries. The replication of colonial practices extends even to removing tribal children to boarding schools.

The more things change the more remains the same ” Said Alphonse Karr. The same can be said about the overdependence on natural resources. The abuse of land and natural resources to get maximum profit. The colonization and displacement of our aboriginal people from their land and ecosystem. All these will lead to us destruction of planet earth. The book warns us if we don’t find an alternative way of living then we are surely heading towards a climate catastrophe.

Prospective Readers

If you have concerns about climate change, interest in history, and politics you will surely like this book. There are details about many historical events, and one needs to be focused and attentive while reading the book to understand the point the author is trying to convey. For beginners, it can be overwhelming, but if you love reading non-fiction, and have a thing for literary works then this book is for you.

What is Interesting about the Book ?

Generally, non-fictions are considered plain reads with a lot of data and information. The storytelling of the author makes this book interesting and despite being non-fiction it felt like reading a novel. The one thing I liked most is the urgent attention that the author draws toward climate change and how it will impact us all.

About the Author

Amitav Ghosh is an Indian writer, best known for his English language historical fiction. He won the 54th Jnanpith award in 2018, India’s highest literary honor. Ghosh’s ambitious novels use complex narrative strategies to probe the nature of national and personal identity, particularly of the people of India and Southeast Asia.[3] He has also written non-fiction works discussing topics such as colonialism and climate change.

Our Verdict

The Nutmeg’s Curse is a great and informative read for anyone concerned about climate change and its adverse impact on our planet. With a lot of research and great storytelling, the book provides us insights into many historical events and warns us about a possible “omnicide” that we are heading towards if we don’t change our approach moving forward.

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