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.