Commerce with the Universe

Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination

Gaurav Desai

Columbia University Press

Commerce with the Universe

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Pub Date: June 2016

ISBN: 9780231164559

352 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£24.95

Pub Date: October 2013

ISBN: 9780231164542

352 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£49.95

Pub Date: October 2013

ISBN: 9780231535595

352 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£24.95

Commerce with the Universe

Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination

Gaurav Desai

Columbia University Press

Reading the life narratives and literary texts of South Asians writing in and about East Africa, Gaurav Desai builds a surprising, alternative history of Africa's experience with slavery, migration, colonialism, nationalism, and globalization. Consulting Afrasian texts that are literary and nonfictional, political and private, he broadens the scope of African and South Asian scholarship and inspires a more nuanced understanding of the Indian Ocean's fertile routes of exchange.

Desai shows how the Indian Ocean engendered a number of syncretic identities and shaped the medieval trade routes of the Islamicate empire, the early independence movements galvanized in part by Gandhi's southern African experiences, the invention of new ethnic nationalisms, and the rise of plural, multiethnic African nations. Calling attention to lives and literatures long neglected by traditional scholars, Desai introduces rich, interdisciplinary ways of thinking not only about this specific region but also about the very nature of ethnic history and identity. Traveling from the twelfth century to today, he concludes with a look at contemporary Asian populations in East Africa and their struggle to decide how best to participate in the development and modernization of their postcolonial nations without sacrificing their political autonomy.
Commerce with the Universe offers a smart, engaging, and learned account of the Asian cultural experience in East Africa. The culmination of more than a decade of research, this book is erudite and sophisticated yet eminently readable. Peter Kalliney, University of Kentucky, author of Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics
In Gaurav Desai's capable hands, the Indian Ocean emerges as both a historical and critical contact zone, an area that models how to think in interdisciplinary, historically broad, generically diverse, and critically nuanced ways not just about this particular geography or its shaping of events (slavery, colonialism, migration, trade, decolonization, nationalism, and globalization) but also about the very categories of ethnic history and ethnic identity. Vilashini Cooppan, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing
Superbly layered and nuanced, Commerce with the Universe is a compelling reading of the imbrication of entangled lives in all their coevalness as well as historical difference. It is a bracing contribution to the emerging episteme of translocal and transregional studies. R. Radhakrishnan, University of California, Irvine, author of A Said Dictionary and History, the Human, and the World Between
Commerce with the Universe is a masterful demonstration that Africa belongs also to the Indian Ocean. The ocean and its cultures are in our past and also in our future. This is a magnificent introduction to intercultural implications between the cultures that belong to the Indian Ocean. V. Y. Mudimbe, Duke University
Erudite... richly detailed... Desai explores surprising relationships between Indian businessmen and diasporic Indian culture and touches on class and ethnic relations... Highly recommended. Choice
An excellent book.... Path-breaking, rigorously researched, and elegantly written. Pallavi Rastogi, Research in African Literatures
[Commerce with the Universe] is a treasure trove of ideas and information.... This remarkable book will continue to inspire scholars for many years to come. Isabel Hofmeyr, Africa
Gaurav Desai sets a high standard for Indian Ocean scholarship.... Commerce with the Universe will interest scholars and students of literary studies, anthropology, history, and postcolonial and area studies. It deserves a prime place in public and private libraries in the literature on Indian Ocean communities and how they shaped one another through connections, contests and cooperation. Jonathan Walz, The Indian Economic and Social History Review
Desai's savvy take on the nature of identity in diaspora populations presents readers with a new way to understand the culture of modern East Africa. Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs
Commerce with the Universe provides a detailed and engaging analysis of the Asian literary and cultural encounters in and about East Africa. Asma Sayed, South Asian Diaspora
1. Ocean and Narration
2. Old World Orders: Amitav Ghosh and the Writing of Nostalgia
3. Post-Manichaean Aesthetics: Asian Texts and Lives
4. Through Indian Eyes: Travel and the Performance of Ethnicity
5. Commerce as Romance: Mehta, Madhvani, Manji
6. Lighting a Candle on Mount Kilimanjaro: Partnering with Nyerere
7. Anti Anti-Asianism and the Politics of Dissent: M. G. Vassanji's The Gunny Sack
Coda : Entangled Lives
Notes
Selected References
Index

Read the opening chapter, "Ocean and Narration":

Web Features:

Africa-Asia Book Prize

Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize for the Best Book on East African Studies

René Wellek Prize

About the Author

Gaurav Desai is professor of English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of Subject to Colonialism: African Self-Fashioning and the Colonial Library (2001), editor of Teaching the African Novel (2009), and coeditor of Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism (2005).