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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

River of Smoke


River of Smoke Cover

ISBN13: 9780374174231
ISBN10: 0374174237
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. The opening scenes recount Deetis survival after she and Kalua escaped the Ibis. She insists that destiny, not chance, led her to the site of her hidden shrine. For her, what does destiny mean? What legacies does she pass on to the next generation?

2. Like many of the novels characters, Ah Fatt and Robin Chinnery have bicultural ancestries. What limitations and freedoms accompany their lack of a legitimate, aristocratic bloodline? Do ancestry and prestige go hand in hand in River of Smoke?

3. Discuss Bahrams and Fitchers motivations. Are they simply greedy?

4. Paulette is a master of disguise and can comfortably move between cultures. What does she consider to be her true identity? Why is horticulture a suitable field for her?

5. Discuss the role of religion in shaping the characters view of the world. When Christian characters justify the opium trade, how do they reconcile it with their faith? (You may enjoy revisiting Charles Kings letter to Charles Elliot near the books final pages.)

6. Bahram and Zadig discuss the experience of having an additional, foreign wife, debating whether love is a factor. How does the relationship between Bahram and Chi-mei change over the years? Would Bahram enjoy Canton as much if he werent a foreigner?

7. How do the trilogys ships—the formerly slave-trading Ibis, Fitchers practical but eccentric-looking Redruth, and the treasure-laden Anahita (named for the Zoroastrian angel)—reflect their passengers?

8. In chapter seven, Robins letter describes the Pearl River as a suburb of Canton. In chapter thirteen, Zadig recalls the legend that claims the river got its name from a foreign trader who dropped a mysterious pearl. Drawing on these and other impressions, discuss the Pearl River as a character: how would you describe its powers and its personality?

9. Consider Ghoshs penchant for intertwining fates. For example, Ah Fatt had been Neels companion in the labor prison, while Neel (qualified to work as a munshi because of the education that accompanied his noble status) is close by when Mr. Punhyqua is arrested, marking the unlikely fall of another member of the ruling class. Does Ghosh create tragicomedy or pure irony in story lines such as these?

10. Near the end of chapter six, Bahram has a chance encounter with Napoleon (a scene inspired by reported encounters between the French emperor and seafaring traders). If you had been in Bahrams position, what would you have asked Napoleon?

11. Chapter two depicts Bahrams slippery ladder escape, echoed in the last chapter. What is the effect of watching Paulette observe the aftermath of the dangling ladder? What do you imagine for Bahram after those final moments?

12. Explore the novels closing scene, in which Deeti and Neel look at Robins prophetic painting. Through his art and his letters, what vision of history does Robin present? Is this vision different from the novels?

13. Although Neel is a fictional character, he was inspired by an 1820s court case in which a wealthy Bengali was convicted of forgery and sentenced to servitude. How was your reading affected by the blend of real-life and imagined figures?

14. Amitav Ghosh revels in the written word, compiling Neels amusing, extensive Chrestomathy in Sea of Poppies and playfully exploring the French influence on the vocabulary of Deeti and other sojourners. What makes Ghoshs approach to language unique?

15. What do you predict for the third installment of the Ibis trilogy?

16. What can the modern world learn about economics and humanity from this novel? Is the history of the Opium Wars—with international trade rivalries such as Dent and Jardines—repeating itself?

Guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.

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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.
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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.
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Product Details

Ghosh, Amitav
Farrar Straus Giroux
Action & Adventure
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
The Ibis Trilogy
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9 x 6 in

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River of Smoke Used Hardcover
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$11.95 In Stock
Product details 528 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374174231 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[This] vast book has a Dickensian sweep of characters, high- and low-life intermingling....Ghosh conjures up a thrilling sense of place."
"Synopsis" by ,
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.

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