River of Smoke: Book summary and reviews of River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke

Ibis Trilogy, Part 2

By Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2011,
    528 pages.

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Book Summary

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 lover, 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 sometimes 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 than 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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

"For lovers of historical fiction and the huge body of Anglo-Indian literature currently popular." - Library Journal

"[This] vast book has a Dickensian sweep of characters, high- and low-life intermingling... Ghosh conjures up a thrilling sense of place." - The Economist

"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." - The Observer (UK)

"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." - The Guardian (UK)

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Author Information

Amitav Ghosh Author Biography

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, and the first two volumes of The Ibis Trilogy: Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

The Circle of Reason was awarded France's Prix Médicis in 1990, and The Shadow Lines won two prestigious Indian prizes the same year, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke award for 1997, and The Glass Palace won the International e-Book Award at the Frankfurt book fair in 2001. In January 2005 The Hungry Tide was awarded the Crossword Book Prize, a major ...

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