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Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This book is also part of my reading challenge for Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

I loved Sea of Poppies so when I saw this book out I knew I had to have it and this is one of the few purchases of a new book done by me. I do buy a fair amount of books but always second hand. This was an exception to the general rule.

It does not follow immediately from the end of Sea of Poppies but characters and events are referred to here and there and it gives you an idea of the people and places if you have read Ghosh's earlier book.

Set in 1838 with Bahram Modie a Parsee of very humble beginnings the story has several characters all equally important to the story so that one cannot be said to be pivotal to the story. The story of opium being brought from India to Canton forms the crux of the story and several additional characters add subsequent stories which all link inexplicably together. A storm at sea almost destroys Modie's biggest shipment of opium on the ship Anahita and also effects the Ibis - a steamer bringing a pair of lovers, indentured servants, a French girl who ends up searching for rare and exotic plants and helping to set up an exchange of plants between China and England and to top it all a host of criminals.

Giving the reader the best of Cantonese history and the intricate dealings of the Emperor and his cohorts with regard to the Opium Wars of 1839 - 1842 not only does it deal with Modie's own personal saga but draws in the colonial East India Company with its British officers who have made their fortunes out of the entrapment of millions of Chinese in the habit of taking opium. The steps taken by the Chinese Emperor to stop the trade and curtail the import of the drug forms the major part of the story.

Ghosh's book is the second part of a three book series and I will be waiting impatiently for the third. I wonder where the setting will be but no doubt Ghosh will give us detailed insights into the culture, the food, the geography and the language of a new country. The details to be found in this book - loved the pidgin English which is liberally sprinkled through this book which is very easily understood, the food in all its variety and the descriptions of everything found in Canton was overwhelming.
Coming from Sri Lanka I did know about the trade that the English evolved over the years with the East but I did not know the extent of the trade and the money involved on a scale which was even by today's standards huge.

This is a must read but preferably starting with the first book. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly not just for a history lover but to anyone who is interested in a good story.


Harvee said...

My husband and I loved the audio of Sea of Poppies; it kept us awake and entertained on a long trip. Now I've borrowed River of Smoke to listen to the second in the 3-book series. Can't wait. We were amazed that one reader could so very well capture the various accents and voices of all the characters in the novel. I hope the same reader will also be doing River of Smoke.

Bookworm1858 said...

I'm disappointed that this doesn't pick up with the same characters as before since Sea of Poppies ended with such a cliffhanger. However it sounds like this book is just as good and I've been dying to read this!

Laura's Reviews said...

Sounds intriguing. I need to add this series to my "to-read" list.

Thank-you for the great review!

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ghosh is a great writer. There is so much depth to his stories both in terms of style and substance. I enjoyed SHADOW LINES.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I must read Sea of Poppies.... I have it but I haven't read it yet.

Nan said...

I've just recently bought Sea of Poppies. I heard a wonderful interview with AG and it is available here, if you want to hear it:

mel u said...

I loved Sea of Poppies also and learned a lot from it. I am hoping to read the sequel in 2012. Great review as always

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have Sea of Poppies but need to read it. Enjoy this one --it seems quite popular.

We just got our internet back today after Saturday's storm, so I am thrilled I can visit your blog again.

Courtenay said...

I adored both of these books. I just finished River of Smoke and found it extraordinary: I could see Canton as vividly as if I were there. Fascinated by the meals prepared for Bahram--some dishes were almost identical to those I ate in Mumbai at the home of a jeweler a few years ago. Can't wait for the next installment!