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River of Smoke (2011)

by Amitav Ghosh

Series: The Ibis Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8755019,029 (3.93)1 / 342
"The Ibis, loaded to its gunwales with a cargo of indentured servants, is in the grip of a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; among the dozens flailing for survival are Neel, the pampered raja who has been convicted of embezzlement; Paulette, the French orphan masquerading as a deck hand; and Deeti, the widowed poppy grower fleeing her homeland with her love, Kalua. The storm also threatens the clipper ship Anahita, groaning with the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India for Canton. And the Redruth, a nursery ship, carries "Fitcher' Penrose, a horticulturist determined to track down the priceless treasures of China that are hidden in plain sight: plants that have the power to heal, or beautify, or intoxicate. All will converge in Canton's Fanqui-Town, or Foreign Enclave: a tumultuous world unto itself where civilizations clash and sometime fuse. It is a powder keg awaiting a spark to ignite the Opium Wars. Spectacular coincidences, startling reversals of fortune, and tender love stories abound. But this is much more that an irresistible page-turner. The blind quest for money, the primacy of the drug trade, the concealment of base impulses behind the rhetoric of freedom: in River of Smoke, the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries meet, and the result is a consuming historical novel with powerful contemporary resonance. Critics praised Sea of Poppies for its vibrant storytelling, antic humor, and rich narrative scope; now Amitav Ghosh continues the epic that has charmed and compelled readers all over the globe"--Provided by publisher.… (more)
  1. 90
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Tinwara)
    Tinwara: Mitchells book is set in a similar enclave: the island of Dejima near Nagasaki, where only Dutch merchants were allowed to trade (but not to enter Japan) Set in the year 1799.
  2. 10
    The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell (wandering_star)
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» See also 342 mentions

English (47)  Italian (2)  French (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Oh, I can not wait to read this. The US booksellers say it isn't available until 9/27...too long to wait. Powells shows 75 copies in their Int'l warehouse. I am ordering it just as soon as I finish grade reports...Happy Summer Reading!
  edutechteacher | Dec 6, 2019 |
Currently reading this book and really struggling through it but too far in to give up so will slog through to the end and maybe something wonderful will happen. Had high hopes having really liked the first book but the link to it doesnt survive the first few pages (unless the end goes back to it). A very contrived plot but at least it is very well written and you do learn about the opium wars (or at least it makes you want to know more about them) but I wouldnt call the book entertaining which in fiction is mainly what I am after (that, and well written prose). I did buy the 3rd book so I know what I do once this one is finished (or will I!). ( )
  ELAB1972 | Jan 2, 2019 |
This is second of three volumes of novels about the British opium trade to China in the mid 19th century.
While the first volume carried the historical background lightly on the wonderful story telling, this second volume is more laboured. The historical background is now the lead part of the book, and weaving the historical with the narrative has become more contrived.
But, having said that, this series is shaping up as something special, and I will be certain to read the final volume.
Read March 2018 ( )
  mbmackay | Mar 14, 2018 |
While an enjoyable read, this book does not hold the same sway over the imagination as the prior book in the series, Sea of Poppies. I've spent some time trying to decide why this is so, because the writing style is in no way inferior -- Ghosh still brings a painterly eye and a sense of setting and place that is vivid and clear to the page. His word pictures are jewel-like in their detail and brilliance. His sense of history, also, is beautiful and finely told. I'm sure an immense amount of research went into the book but it never weighs down the narrative. He is diligent in letting the reader experience history as his characters do -- as events unfold, rather than as a great backdrop to their lives. Because of this, he is able to maintain a level of suspense and drama in their lives that is rarely diluted by the perspective of an omnipotent narrator. And if there is the occasional foreshadowing, or rare moments where a character's fate is telegraphed to the reader, well these are easily forgiven lapses against the panoramic story Ghosh is telling. If I had read this book first, I would have loved it for the description of life in Canton alone. Likewise, Ghosh's characters are all beautifully drawn, complex and driven by motives that are wholly real and understandable and compelling. They stand on their own, and do not demand of the reader any knowledge of the events that occurred in the first book, although reading Sea of Poppies certainly enriches the reader's perspective. But the continuing stories of Paulette and Neel and Ah Fatt -- central characters in the first book -- are taken up via the simple expedient of introducing them through the eyes of the people who become involved in their lives: a botanist/explorer who runs into Paulette during a visit to a neglected botanical garden; an opium trader whose ship is docked for repairs, where it is recognized by Ah Fatt. The coincidences are striking, but credible. Certainly plausible enough not to derail the story.

So the lukewarm reaction River of Smoke generally receives is a bit of a mystery. I finally decided that my problem with the book was a certain lack of narrative focus that Sea of Poppies did not suffer from. There is, in the end, a thematic exploration to the first book in the Ibis trilogy-- is it all about transformation. Metamorphosis. Every one of the characters who end up together on the Ibis are in the process of becoming somebody new: A local rajah becomes a person without caste. A woman escapes her own funeral pyre and leaves her old life in its ashes. A French girl makes herself into an Asiatic. A black sailor slowly turns into a white sahib. There is even a man who is gradually becoming the vessel for a female spirit. The color, the history, the picture of colonial India, the vivid historical detail and the striking way Ghosh can call up a scene before the reader's eyes -- these are all hung, as it were, on the frame of this common theme of transformation. Transformation is the underlying drive each character feels -- it is what makes the reader invested in their fate. So that even though Sea of Poppies ends with something of a cliff hanger, the story does feel complete, in a sense, because at that point every character has embraced who they have become. There is nothing like this narrative coherence in River of Smoke. It is, instead, simply a story of "what happens next." Beautifully told, to be sure, but not compelling in the way that Sea of Poppies was compelling. The lives of these people are now simply leaves swirling in the winds of change, and while there is some interest in seeing where, eventually, they come to rest, there is no real sense of direction or purpose to the novel except this: what happens next. It's not quite enough for a literary novel, to be honest. Not when we already know the author is capable of telling a deep story, not just a wide one.
  southernbooklady | May 5, 2017 |
Sequel to Sea of Poppies. I was more enthralled by the linguistic experimentation in the first novel, and the action was faster-paced, but this one packs an emotional punch via the intransigence of the British merchants behind the scenes of the first Opium War. A sickening historical episode that I knew nothing about before reading these novels, and now I can't wait for the third one to come out. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
On one level, the novel that arises from this formative geopolitics 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.
added by souloftherose | editThe Observer, Tim Adams (Jun 19, 2011)
 
Amitav Ghosh's two latest novels carry us deep inside the opium trade in the 1830s. River of Smoke is the second volume of a proposed trilogy. The first, Sea of Poppies, published in 2008, took us along the Ganges and to Calcutta, where the poppies are grown and the opium processed. River of Smoke follows the story through to Canton in China, where the opium is sold. The Chinese authorities are trying to prevent illegal imports of the drug, which has inflicted a plague of addiction on the Chinese population while making empire-sized fortunes for the irrepressibly shameless traders, mostly British.

In historical novels the past can sometimes feel tamed; hindsight, hovering just off the page, tells us that we know what it all added up to and what came of it (the First Opium War, during which British gunboats enforced a treaty opening Chinese ports to international trade, comes shortly after the ending of this novel). But Ghosh's novels somehow succeed in taking us back inside the chaos of when "then" was "now". His grasp of the detail of the period is exhaustive – he is so thoroughly submerged in it – that readers can't possibly remember all the things he shows them, or hold on to all the life-stories of all the characters he introduces. Both novels are cabinets of curiosities, crowded with items that hold a story of their own.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Tessa Hadley (Jun 10, 2011)
 

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For my mother
On her eigthieth
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Deeti's shrine was hidden in a cliff, in a far corner of Mauritius, where the island's eastern and southern shorelines collide to form the wind-whipped dome of the Morne Brabant.
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"The Ibis, loaded to its gunwales with a cargo of indentured servants, is in the grip of a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; among the dozens flailing for survival are Neel, the pampered raja who has been convicted of embezzlement; Paulette, the French orphan masquerading as a deck hand; and Deeti, the widowed poppy grower fleeing her homeland with her love, Kalua. The storm also threatens the clipper ship Anahita, groaning with the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India for Canton. And the Redruth, a nursery ship, carries "Fitcher' Penrose, a horticulturist determined to track down the priceless treasures of China that are hidden in plain sight: plants that have the power to heal, or beautify, or intoxicate. All will converge in Canton's Fanqui-Town, or Foreign Enclave: a tumultuous world unto itself where civilizations clash and sometime fuse. It is a powder keg awaiting a spark to ignite the Opium Wars. Spectacular coincidences, startling reversals of fortune, and tender love stories abound. But this is much more that an irresistible page-turner. The blind quest for money, the primacy of the drug trade, the concealment of base impulses behind the rhetoric of freedom: in River of Smoke, the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries meet, and the result is a consuming historical novel with powerful contemporary resonance. Critics praised Sea of Poppies for its vibrant storytelling, antic humor, and rich narrative scope; now Amitav Ghosh continues the epic that has charmed and compelled readers all over the globe"--Provided by publisher.

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Haiku summary
Commerce d'opium
Recherche du camélia d'or
Sont tous à Canton
(Tiercelin)

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