While rummaging through my son's books I stumbled upon Amitav Ghosh's "In an Antique Land", found it engrossing and finished it in one sitting. As the cover quotes from Sunday Times:
"Ghosh's book is extraordinary; a travel book that reaches back into twelfth century as it touches on the dilemnas of our own times".
Cohen's article gives a description of how Amitav Ghosh started on the book:
"Later, the world-at-large got the chance—from an unexpected corner—to read about the thrills of the India trade as portrayed in Goitein’s Geniza. The story I am about to tell exemplifies Goitein’s global impact. I refer to the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh and his wonderful book, In an Antique Land, published in 1992. Ghosh, while an Oxford doctoral student in social anthropology in 1978, chanced upon the India trade while reading Goitein’s magnificent collection, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders (1973). In that medieval, cosmopolitan world of commerce and travel, Ghosh met up with one of Goitein’s twelfth-century India merchants and his Indian slave and business agent. The young scholar from Calcutta identified with his twelfth-century countryman and resolved to tell his story.
He began by choosing to do his anthropological fieldwork in Egypt. His quest later brought him to Princeton in 1985: he wanted to meet Goitein. But Goitein had recently died, so poor Amitav Ghosh got me instead, a distant runner-up. That began an association that lasted several years while Amitav researched the Indian trade documents in the Geniza, first in Princeton, then in Cambridge, England, reading the Judaeo-Arabic texts about his characters in the original, and writing chapters for his book. It is a riveting story, interweaving his own experience as an Indian living in Egyptian villages of the late twentieth century with that of Bomma, the Egyptian(?) slave of that Jewish merchant who travelled between Egypt and India 850 years earlier.
Ghosh’s book catapulted Goitein and his research into the world of fiction readers, for Ghosh was already known by 1993 for two acclaimed novels set in India. Indeed, In an Antique Land reads like a novel. Early on I told Amitav that his book, when published, would do more for the Geniza and for Goitein’s reputation as a scholar than any number of the books Goitein or his students had written or ever would write. I was not wrong. The book has sold many thousands of copies, and many of the reviews mentioned Goitein. Readers of the Washington Post learned that “S.D. Goitein, almost certainly the greatest scholar to have written on the social and economic history of the Near East, made brilliant use of the Geniza materials in his exhaustively researched, fluently written, and magisterial five-volume work, A Mediterranean Society.” Clifford Geertz, who knew Goitein during the years he spent as a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study, told readers of The New Republic: “It is on these materials that Goitein based A Mediterranean Society, his magnificent synthesis of medieval society in the region, oneof the most considerable historical works of our time.”
Goitein would have loved In an Antique Land, for he was deeply committed to broad educational goals."
Addendum (30th Semptember): While posting the above I did not realize that "In an Antique Land" is considered seriously by several anthropologists and has been a part of various graduate courses in anthropolgy and literature. For a layman like me it was a multi-faceted, engrossing and finally a humble book giving a glimpses of the changing world we live in and an elegy to a world that seemed to have diappeared with the advent of Portugese and other European powers to the Indian ocean trade. To be sure there is not much about women or common people of the earlier period, a point taken up by Claire Chambers in this article. Here is another intersting article which discusses Ghosh's book.