Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 270
There are a lot of smaller themes woven together into one big one, in Amitav Ghosh's book, In an Antique Land. The search for security, the need for an anchoring identity, the attempt to keep up with rapid economic, social and political change, and "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" are all small themes you can find throughout the story. They become one big theme, though, if you consider that the book itself is a cross between fiction and non-fiction, between an anthropological study, a travel narrative, and a novel of self-discovery. The big theme of In an Antique Land is that you only find yourself, and you only really understand life and the world, if you cross borders. These borders are not only real, as in the borders between countries, but also figurative, as in the borders between social classes, or masters and slaves, or ancient and modern ways of life. You only really understand those if you try to cross them, but actually living that way or by putting yourself in someone else's shoes.
These big and small themes appear in the book in the way villagers in Lataifa leave for jobs rebuilding Iraq after the US invasion, in order to get the material trappings of modern life. They appear when Bomma the slave makes trips abroad to do Abraham Ben Yiju's business deals, yet returns home to servitude when he's finished. They're present whenever Ghosh himself appears in the novel as a student, trying to make sense of himself by telling the story of centuries of change in an Egyptian village.