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The Opium Clerk Paperback – May 1, 2001

3 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A first novel of rare assurance, imaginatively set and richly textured with tales that spin away into elliptical orbits.” -- The Times Literary Supplement

“Superbly researched, quite beautifully written: a formidable first novel.” -- Kirkus Reviews

“The feeling of a long dream—nightbound, subterranean, images rising to the surface to be caught by the sun.” -- Jeanette Winterson

“You don’t have to be an opium addict to savor the slow–burning languor of [this story].” -- India Today

From the Publisher

Hiran is born in 1857: the year of the Mutiny and the year his father dies. Brought to Calcutta by his widowed mother, he has few talents apart from an uncanny ability to read a man’s lies in his palm. When luck gets him a job at an auction house, Hiran finds himself embroiled in a mysterious trade and in the affairs of his nefarious superior, Mr. Jonathan Crabbe, and his opium–addicted wife. “It is a phantasmagoric world, rich in stories, visions, and dreams, not unlike those inspired by the heinous drug itself.” The Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753813394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753813393
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,923,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
The Opium Clerk is Hiran, born in 1857, the year of the Mutiny, the year his father is run down in the park by wild horses. Hiran's life might have been very different had his father lived, for he would have continued his education and life as Brahmin instead of becoming a clerk for the British Empire. At first Hiran did not know what the "mud" was, the dark hand-rolled balls of dreams about which he--and the hundreds of other clerks--kept such meticulous records. There were no laws "against" it, only laws the British made and enforced to ensure their own monopoly of the trade, a lively commerce which brought enormous wealth to the Empire whose motives and corruption Hiran does not judge. Hiran observes, and learns, and moves and is moved along the various paths the trade in the drug offers. He can be trusted, and his sharp eyes and deliberate thoughts preserve his life through many catastrophic moments in India's history and later in China's. He has the gift of reading palms, and his own baffle him--the lifeline in his left, or birth hand, is short, and detours passion, but his right hand, the hand of action, is creased by a much longer lifeline. High born, he is patronized and condescended to by the imperial British. His "superior" is Jonathan Crabbe, whose wife is an addict. The special work he does for Crabbe involves Hiran in every level of Indian life, and the more secrets he learns and keeps, the more important he becomes. The events and journeys in the novel spin for him the longer life his right hand foretells. His journeys have circled him back to his birthplace, and his true passion finally reveals itself to him.
Kunal Basu has used as his epigraph for the novel Krishna's line from The Bhagavad Gita: "All is clouded by desire...
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Unless you have a reasonably good background in the history of the opium trade and the companies involved I and others in my book group who read it, found this book highly frustrating, with far too many loose ends.
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