Amitav Ghosh is a giant of Anglo-Indian Literature who debuted in 1986 with `The Circle of Reason'.
`River of Smoke' is the second installment of the `Ibis' trilogy, with the third and final novel still being in the works.
Broadly speaking, the `Ibis' trilogy is an ambitious historical oeuvre about the British opium trade. The first istallment, `Sea of Poppies' (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize) mostly focused on the Indian poppy industry whereas this new chapter is set in Canton, i.e., the destination market.
The events are set around 1838-39, shortly before the Opium Wars, in a time when the Chinese managed to briefly expel the foreign traders from the country and put a (temporary) ban on opium import.
The novel has its fair share of suspensful passages yet it is in no way fast-paced. It helps to remind that Amitav Ghost has a Ph.D in social anthropology and that all of his works, at least to an extent, involve painstakingly accurate research.
One of the major complaints that I've heard about this new trilogy is that there is too much historical context and too little story. In my opinion things are better balanced but it is true that the author obviously relishes writing long descriptive passages about the customs, nuances and facts of the time.
On top of being splendidly researched, `River of smoke' is also extremely well written (only Anglo-Indian writers seems to have this mastery of the English language nowadays).
I'm sure it could have cut down some excessive fat but overall this was a deeply enjoyable novel and I'd freely recommend it to people who are into serious fiction.
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