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River of Smoke Hardcover – Sep 27 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Canada (Sept. 27 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670066656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670066650
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 4.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #153,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The dilemma of personal gain versus the larger good has always been a problem for capitalism and one that Adam Smith attempted to resolve back in the 18th century with his famous opus, "The Wealth of Nations." In fact, his book is used as justification for the opium trade by the British in the "River of Smoke." By selling their drug to the peasants of China they create a nation of addict and earn massive profits from them. Mr. Ghosh's main character, Bahram Modi is an Indian who survived his father's financial demise by marrying into a wealthy family. Unfortunately, he was unable to make a place for himself with the in-laws until he discovers the opium trade and becomes personally involved in its purchase and sale. He now has two lives, one with his wife in India and another with a concubine in Cantoni. In both location, he has children. At the beginning of our story, Bahram wants to make one last sale in support of his retirement by selling all his assets back in India to make a massive purchase of opium. Unfortunately for him, upon arrival in Canton, he learns that the emperor has placed an embargo on the sale of opium. Its trade has been illegal for some time however no concerted effort has been made to stop its import. So, Bahram spends his time with the other opium traders in the foreign district of Canton waiting for the emperor to change his mind or intervention on their behalf by the British government. Eventually, the traders' patience wanes and the conflict intensifies. Despite an awkward beginning, the story moves smoothly from where the previous book, "Sea of Poppies." The theme of greed versus the greater good is as relevant today as it was back in China in the early 1800s and "River of Smoke" is an enjoyable and informative exploration of that theme, a book well worth reading especially for those who have finished "Sea of Poppies."
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Format: Hardcover
If you loved Sea of Poppies, you won't be disappointed with the second book in this trilogy. It's as vivid as the first one! But perhaps wait till it's available as a paperback....
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 69 reviews
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Continues to amaze and entertain! Sept. 27 2011
By Bobby D. - Published on Amazon.com
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 . The book reaches an incredibly high benchmark for historical fiction writing.

As book two begins we are introduced to two other ships who are riding out the storm (with the Ibis?). One has as a passenger, Paulette who is brought forward from the first book and wants to re-discover a rare flower China is rumored to have that is said to cure almost anything. The other ship has the book's new main character Bahram Modi, an Indian, the father of Ah Fatt who is also one of the carry over characters from POPPIES. Bahram invests everything in one big gamble... taking a huge shipment of Opium from India to China. We are introduced to him and his cargo as they sail though a huge storm as he fights against the real possibility of his losing his cargo and investment. When he arrives in Canton,China he finds that the Emperor of China has decide to now close Chinese ports to the Opium trade. A trade that has all along been illegal in China. The British profited greatly by trading opium in exchange for Tea and other Chinese goods. This they did in the name of "free trade" and the rule of "markets" with no concern what Opium's impact on China was. It does not take much for the reader to recognize that Ghosh has found an historical parallel for today's globalization. He focuses on the clash of culture, empire, ambition, profiteering, art, language and love.

I liked these lines found near the end of the book, "Am I wrong to think that it was you who said that the involvement of a government representative would be a perversion of the laws of free trade? This is no longer a matter of trade...it now concerns our persons, our safety. Oh I see!....The government is to you what God is to agnostics - only to be invoked when your own well-being is at stake!" And another line that demonstrates the larger ambition of the narrative, "And what was it all for...... Was it just for this: so that these fellows could speak English, and wear hats and trousers, and play cricket?"
To paraphrase Ghosh, if he had not written such a splendid novel about Canton no one would believe that such a place had ever existed. This is the second part of an amazingly entertaining read. Don't miss out.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Prelude to an Opium War Sept. 27 2011
By Martin Zook - Published on Amazon.com
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.

The characters in TRoS are a little more complex than in SoP, but ambiguity is not a staple of these books. Good people are corrupted by the opium trade and its proliferation. It's an historical fact that the trade for the four years ending in 1839 expanded several times over and while not getting into numbers, Ghosh's story reflects this fact.

The English do not come off well in Ghosh's portrayal. And this is not to say that they should. But the fact that the Chinese emperors allowed the opium trade for as long as they did is given but lip service and that from one of the more repugnant characters in the book.

Some readers have expressed surprise that TRoS did not make the Booker Prize list this year. It shouldn't be too much of a surprise as the book does have its faults.

The linkage of the two books seems clunky on two accounts: 1) characters prominent in the first volume inexplicably fade to the background in the TRoS, after it seemed that the characters would assume major roles at the end of SoP; and 2) the roles assigned to some characters who are carried over seem superfluous. The character of Deeti, who assumed leadership of the Indian immigrants in SoP inexplicably is nearly a ghost in TRoS. What's that about?

Ghosh does increase interest in TRoS by exploring themes of a global economy. Economic historians frequently point out that the 19th century featured freer trade globally than we do in today's more regulated environment. Clearly Ghosh sees the harm in letting market forces, and those who invariably manipulate them, rule.
But Ghosh seems to be setting up a third volume which could explore to some degree the emergence of India and China as emerging economies, which of course is highly relevant to our global economy today.

Enjoy!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Not as good as Sea of Poppies; too didactic Feb. 12 2012
By J. P. Craig - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Can Erudition Be Bad? Nov. 22 2011
By sephardit - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
wish this book had offered... Nov. 12 2011
By Isis - Published on Amazon.com
A glossary of the many words in other languages would have been very helpful. Also, the different names for the same characters made it difficult to keep the characters straight, especially when they disappeared for major lengths of time. Nonetheless, Ghosh definitely created an evocative picture of life around Canton during the earlier opium trade years.

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