Climate thriller without Kalashnikov [Book Review: The Sands of Sarasvati by Risto Isomaki]

Since the book under review is a bit old, I prefer to quote the snapshots of earlier reviews.

“ The Sands of Sarasvati is an eco-thriller of apocalyptic proportions, which culminates in a giant flood. The book is both topical, and frighteningly believable. It is a lesson in how our melting of the polar ice sheets may trigger a tsunami that threatens the entire globe. Isomäki’s thought provoking and captivating thriller is flooded with cultural and historical knowledge, and with old wisdom from the East.”
– Finlandia Prize judges panel


“ The Sands of Sarasvati is a cleverly written thriller which goes many levels deeper than just the prospect of an environmental catastrophe.” – Kansan Uutiset

“ The Sands of Sarasvati is a frightening thriller because its set-up is so very real. This book must be commended for the way that it handles a difficult subject, and explains the complex causative chain to the reader. At long last, we get to read a literary work that has a lot to say. The Sands of Sarasvati is a significant contribution to the ongoing dialogue about climate change.“

“ Thanks to its subject and the way it is written, The Sands of Sarasvati is one of the key books of this autumn. As a narrator of the movement of snow and ice, Isomäki is as captivating as Peter Hoeg was in his novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” – Aamulehti

The Sands of Sarasvati  by Risto Isomaki
(Translated into English from Finnish: Owen Witesman)
Published by INTO; Pages: 345+IV

As evident from the above quotes, “The Sands of Sarasvati” is definitely a book of fiction; but more so, a book on the imminent catastrophe with which we should be concerned. This eco-thriller is the fiction version of Risto Isomaki’s earlier work: “64 ways to absorb carbon and improve the Earth’s reflectivity”, published in 2009. It is true that the Finnish version of the novel came in 2005 and it will be a post facto to refer the later book. Nevertheless, the author has been campaigning for such ecologically important issues since almost three decades.



“The Sands of Sarasvati” is a novel on climate change, particularly with reference to the melting of ice sheets in Greenland. The hero of the novel, if we like to treat so, is Sergei Savelnikov, who is an expert submarine explorer. He has mastered a state-of-the-art Russian submarine Lomonosov. When this is rented out to Indian Government’s National Institute of Ocean Technology, he explores the submerged cities surrounding Dwaraka, the city of Krishna. Based on the real oceanographic explorations, he dwells deep into the Arabian sea to find more cities. What perplexes him and his Indian friend, marine historian, guide (and later his life partner), Amrita Desai, is the massive mountains of human bones, all dead, possibly instantly. While studying this strange phenomenon, he comes across some even strange photographs of a vanished lake from a far away Greenland. Thus the novel swings into action.

Apart from vanishing of a huge glacier, the novel has many thrilling moments. The other explorer Susan Cheng’s dare devil acts to reach the bottom of the endless hole which sucked in the whole lake, the falling of ice sheets thereafter; the braking of the ice sheets, the near death moments of the players; finally, the apocalyptic scenario that take place despite the scientifically correct massive efforts – all are narrated in a matter of fact style. The 340 odd pages are full of climate change discussions, interlaced with human relationships, incidents, explorations of a thrilling kind. While the book reminds us of few `end of the world’ Hollywood movies, it is also a grim reminder of the very possible tragedy that may strike at mankind, if corrective measures are not taken.

In fact, Risto Isomaki has provided a postscript, in which he commendably defends his imaginations as true life scenarios. “Unfortunately, many of the warnings in the Sands of Sarasvati (which was mostly written during the years 2001-2004) are based on real scientific projections, many of which are already coming true’ – this is what Risto has said.

One of the novel’s scene relates to the closing of nuclear power plants across the coastal lines of Russia and upper Europe. Risto’s imagination of a nuclear catastrophe came true in 2011, much after his writing this scene! Japan’s Fukushima nuclear installation was devastated as the Tsunami struck hard. This one instance is enough to believe Risto’s other near future scenes, which of course are bleak and dangerous.

The last scenes of Lomonosov floating across the submerged cities of Europe is a scene which is yet to be visualised in Hollywood. Thus, Risto has surpassed the unreal fiction movies from Hollywood and has given us the most realistic, yet terrifically thrilling novel of a different kind. He has shown that a novel can be more thrilling even without a Kalashnikov or a man made terrorism.

The fact that The sands of Sarasvati has inspired votes in the European Parliament, Three theatre plays, a major international feature film project, a comic album, multimedia installations, glass art, music, a foundation, short radio plays and several research papers speaks to the quality of work.

Risto Isomaki deserves our heartfelt compliments for writing such a new age novel, sending the ecology message in style.

Science fiction of this new kind is a welcome development.

Further reading:
Read Risto Isomaki’s
`64 ways to absorb carbon and  improve the Earth’s reflectivity’ here:

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