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River of Smoke: A Novel (The Ibis Trilogy) Hardcover – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


No writer in modern India has held a novelistic lamp to the subcontinent's densely thicketed past as vividly and acutely as Amitav Ghosh . . . River of Smoke, the second volume of his ambitious Ibis trilogy, is the work of a writer with a historical awareness and an appetite for polyphony that are equal to the immense demands of the material he seeks to illuminate . . . Evenly written and engaging . . . The force of Ghosh's ideas and the beauty of his tableaus of Canton are two of the book's achievements; the semantic ripples of the variety of dialects he folds into the narration are a third. River of Smoke is both a stirring portrayal of the past and, novelistically, a prescient beacon for the future. (Chandrahas Choudhury, The New York Times Book Review)

The narrative is suffused with the rich intercourse of commerce and miscegenation, embracing within its capacious rubric a variety of set-pieces, from a Chinese boat serving authentic Indian fare to an Armenian trader interviewing Napoleon in exile on St. Helena . . . The period detail is meticulously researched and lovingly described . . . The novel celebrates the joys of cultural and culinary mingling, the mongrelization of language in the forms of pidgin and Creole, and the mixing of peoples across old barriers of acceptable sexual and racial intercourse . . . With River of Smoke, Ghosh's Ibis trilogy is emerging as a monumental tribute to the pain and glory of an earlier era of globalization, an era when people came into contact and collision, intermixing costumes, customs, convictions, consonants, couplings and cash, shaping history all the while through their pettiness, their privations and their passions. (Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post)

Like a wonderful multicoloured tapestry Ghosh has woven a story made up of a series of vibrant threads made from a multitude of materials . . . Ghosh has done a masterful job in not only making each of his characters fascinating studies and interesting people to spend time with, he has also managed to bring the strange exotic world of the foreign enclave in Canton vividly alive . . . While Ghosh's descriptive abilities allow us to create intricate portraits of people and locations, it's his agility with languages which gives River Of Smoke an extra level of verisimilitude. From the strange mix of words spoken by the family in the opening pages of the book, the scattering of pidgin appearing like exotic fruit in amongst the bland English of the trader's everyday speech, the conversations between the merchants and their Chinese partners, to the bombastic rhetoric of the ardent British free traders, each person we meet is given a voice as unique as their character and a language or dialect to match . . . River Of Smoke is a wonderful mixture of people, places and story that captures a moment in history like an insect snared in amber. All the details are there for the reader to see and appreciate. (Richard Marcus, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Spellbinding and astute, Ghosh continues the nineteenth-century historical saga about the opium trade that he launched with Sea of Poppies (2008). This is an even more fluid and pleasurable tale, however dire its conflicts, and stands firmly on its own, though readers shouldn't miss the first installment . . . With one more novel to go, Ghosh's epic trilogy is on its way to making literary history. (Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review))

Ghosh sets the second volume of his Ibis trilogy in 1838, appropriately enough, because at heart he's a 19th-century novelist with a sweeping vision of character and culture...Ghosh triumphs both through the clarity of his style and the sweep of his vision, and he leaves the reader eager for volume three. (Kirkus Reviews)

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. (Tim Adams, The Observer (London))

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. (Tessa Hadley, The Guardian)

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

Ghosh's best and most ambitious work yet . . . [He] writes with impeccable control, and with a vivid and sometimes surprising imagination. (The New Yorker on Sea of Poppies)

A delight . . . [Ghosh is] a writer of uncommon talent who combines literary flair with a rare seriousness of purpose . . . His descriptions bring a lost world to life. (Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post Book World on Sea of Poppies)

Brilliant . . . By the book's stormy and precarious ending, most readers will clutch it like the ship's rail awaiting, just like Ghosh's characters, the rest of the voyage to a destination unknown. (Don Oldenburg, USA Today on Sea of Poppies)

About the Author

Amitav Ghosh is the internationally bestselling author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Glass Palace, and is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes. Ghosh divides his time between Kolkata and Goa, India, and Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Ibis Trilogy (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374174237
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374174231
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Bobby D. on September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
One of the benefits of a summer trip to London is to discover that a much anticipated new book is available there before its United States publication date. So much to my surprise I was able to purchase Amitar Ghosh's new book, the second of his Ibis trilogy, RIVER OF SMOKE. The first book being the outstanding SEA OF POPPIES which I read in 2009. Ghosh continues to amaze with his newest volume as both an excellent writer and story teller. I can not wait for the concluding volume in a few years.

The trilogy is told against the backdrop of the Opium wars of the early 1800s. The first book took many characters to tell the story of how the Opium was produced by the East India Company in India. These characters all found their way to becoming passengers on the ship "Ibis" and the book ends with a great storm and its various character plot lines are cast off without clean endings. So I for one expected that the second book would continue with this same group of characters and there individual stories. Hoping I guess that they all would continue to star in Ghosh's epic production. This was not to be as Ghosh opens SMOKE with what I found to be an extremely muddled opening chapter or two. But then things get going and we also discover that Ghosh has something larger in mind. The story he intends to tell is that of the Opium trade itself. His characters and thier stories provide an entertaining window on a world dominated by Opium and its impact on lives and history. The research in this book is astounding. You can feel, see, and smell every part of Canton, China where the setting has now moved from India. This is not a story told in hindsight... it is told in real time with what one recognizes must be real peoples reactions to real time events .
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Martin Zook on September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The River of Smoke is the second installment of Amitav Ghosh's entertaining and informative Ibis trilogy. Is reading the first volume required? Technically, no.

But, the stories are linked in a clumsy fashion, and at least one of the main characters in River of Smoke cannot be fully appreciated in TRS without having read the first volume Sea of Poppies. And, Gosh is painting a broad canvas that includes the British poppy industry and its corrupting affect on Indian society. So, it helps to more fully appreciate Gosh's story to read both volumes.

The Sea of Poppies largely describes the Indian poppy growing and manufacturing industry in 1838. The passage describing an opium factory itself makes the book a worthwhile read. The River of Smoke (TRoS) places its characters in the historical events of 1838-39, when the Chinese succeeded briefly in expelling English opium traders from the international center of Canton.

Ghosh's narrative captures in detail the emergence of Chinese resistance to the growing opium trade. There is tremendously relevant back and forth between the traders and the Chinese (including arguments repeated today to justify various global trade policies). And, the characters in his story are pushed and pulled by material and ethical concerns that are still relevant today.

For those unfamiliar with Ghosh's writing, he is very much from the Dumas, Hugo, Dickens lineage in literature. His books are as comfortable and traditional as overstuffed furniture in front of a fire in the den on a wintry night.

I read both volumes of the trilogy back-to-back and would have read the third consecutively if it had been available.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. P. Craig on February 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sea of Poppies was a very good picaresque novel, with a sensibility for its characters somewhat like Dickens, a mixture of compassion and condemnation, though generally not unsympathetic toward those it condemned. This second novel in the series has many characters that only exist, seemingly, to parrot ideological positions. The "free trade" fanqui community is a particularly egregious collection of pasteboard cutouts. All this despite a beautiful, lyrical beginning to the novel. It sadly slides away from the stories of people to the broadest of cartoon sketches of the outset of the Opium War, as well as a (deserved) attack on neoliberalism.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By sephardit on November 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No finer storyteller than Amitov Ghosh can be found, but this novel is more ethnography than adventure, truer to the anthropologist Ghosh than to Ghosh the skillful weaver of tall tales. Like many other Ghosh fans, I eagerly awaited the further adventures of the characters I had grown to love in Sea of Poppies. That Paulette here spends so many pages furthering her knowledge of botany is commendable, but it hardly compares to her previous life as a ward of the fussy Burnhams, her bold departure from them, and her emotional involvements with Jodu and Zachary. It's hard to love River of Smoke's Bahram the way one loved Sea of Poppies' Kalua, hard to stick with the narrative expositions of Neel and Ah Fat after sharing in their deprivation, degradation and remarkable bonding during the Ibis voyage. To enjoy this book it's best to settle in, yield to Ghosh's marvelous facility with languages, his vivid descriptions of places and conditions, his erudite grasp of detail. And the stirring universality of his message comes through despite the narrow historic and geographical focus of his tale.
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