bellajh, January 5, 2012 (view all comments by bellajh)
"River of Smoke" is the second book in a proposed trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. It follows the first book "Sea of Poppies". Readers who think they are familiar with the history of Colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, will be surprised again and again with a startling realization of how little they actually know.The book is a compelling recreation of the era when the Opium wars of the 1800s impoverished, emasculated and abased two ancient civilizations, those of India and China. There is no judgement here, this is not merely a morality tale about Western greed and exploitation of the gullible East. The author is not blaming any particular race or nation, he just tells in gripping detail, a story of man's choice to either transcend his impulses of greed or avarice or sink to levels of depravity that leave destruction and despair in its wake. Read this book, it is historical fiction at its best.
Dexter, January 3, 2012 (view all comments by Dexter)
A brilliant follow up to "Sea of Poppies". The language sweeps you up into historical Canton immediately prior to the Opium War between China and England in mid 19th century. I am looking forward to third book in this trilogy very much.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Find a story line — there are a number of them — in the second installment of Ghosh's Ibis trilogy (after the Booker Prize — shortlisted Sea of Poppies) and hang on for dear life or risk being lost at sea in this tour of mid 19th-century south Asia. This crowded novel is in turn confusing and exhilarating, crammed with chaotic period detail and pidgin languages. Three ships barely survive an Indian Ocean cyclone in late 1838. Their passengers, each possessing a secret, wash up in Canton (now Guangzhou), China. They are as varied as the region, among them the disgraced young raja, Neel; the Parsi opium trader, Bahram; his bastard Chinese son, Ah Fatt; the Cornish botanist, 'Fitcher' Penrose; and the French orphan, Paulette. Neel becomes Bahram's scribe; Paulette becomes Fitcher's assistant, even though Canton bars foreign women from entry. The prelude to the opium wars plays out, as the Chinese emperor tries to resist British arguments for free trade to support their role in the drug trade. The fallout from the soured diplomacy creates obstacles to Penrose's research as well as to the personal fates of Bahram and the others. Ghosh is a highly imaginative, articulate writer. The dialects he mimics are delightful, as are the vignettes and asides that make up the bulk of this book. But a stronger plot would have helped the reader navigate all the sampans and samosas, opium dreams and camellias." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by Tim Adams, The Observer (London),
"On one level, [River of Smoke] is a remarkable feat of research, bringing alive the hybrid customs of food and dress and the competing philosophies of the period with intimate precision; on another it is a subversive act of empathy, viewing a whole panorama of world history from the 'wrong' end of the telescope. The real trick, though, is that it is also fabulously entertaining."
by Tessa Hadley, The Guardian,
"Eloquent...Fascinating...[River of Smoke's] strength lies in how thoroughly Ghosh fills out his research with his novelistic fantasy, seduced by each new situation that presents itself and each new character, so that at their best the scenes read with a sensual freshness as if they were happening now."
by The Economist,
"[This] vast book has a Dickensian sweep of characters, high- and low-life intermingling....Ghosh conjures up a thrilling sense of place."
A New York Times Book Review Editors Choice
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of Year
A NPR Best Book of the Year
In Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, the Ibis began its treacherous journey across the Indian Ocean, bound for the cane fields of Mauritius with a cargo of indentured servants. Now, in River of Smoke, the former slave ship flounders in the Bay of Bengal, caught in the midst of a deadly cyclone. The storm also threatens the clipper ship Anahita, groaning with the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India for Canton. Meanwhile, the Redruth, a nursery ship, carries horticulturists determined to track down the priceless botanical treasures of China. All will converge in Cantons Fanqui-town, or Foreign Enclave, a powder keg awaiting a spark to ignite the Opium Wars. A spectacular adventure, but also a bold indictment of global avarice, River of Smoke is a consuming historical novel with powerful contemporary resonance.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.