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River of Smoke: Book 2 Of The Ibis Trilogy Hardcover – Sep 27 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (Sept. 27 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670066656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670066650
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #217,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for River of Smoke

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

Praise for Sea of Poppies

Ghosh’s best and most ambitious work yet . . . [He] writes with impeccable control, and with a vivid and sometimes surprising imagination.” —The New Yorker

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

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

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. He studied at the universities of Delhi and Oxford, and published the first of seven novels, The Circle of Reason, in 1986. He currently divides his time between Calcutta, Goa, and Brooklyn. The first novel in the Ibis trilogy, Sea of Poppies, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

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Format: Paperback
This second novel in Ghosh's 'Ibis' trilogy is as truly spell-binding as the first, 'Sea of Poppies'. There have been questions about the use of a mixture of vernaculars (British colonial, Indian Hindi, something like French joual, creole, pidgin and mixtures of all, as well as English). Would unfamiliar forms inhibit one's deep pleasure in the wonder of the storytelling? Not at all. One can understand perfectly clearly, for Ghosh moves into full-flow slowly and carefully so the language of telling simply fantastically embroiders the stories, events and characters. We move around from one fabulous place - the Southern Ocean, the Morne, Mauritius, China etc - with characters we fell in love with in 'Sea of Poppies', pulled by the vital power of those and fresh characters and their surrounds. Here is one book that never calls for work in reading it: I'm grateful it arrived in my box at the beginning of summer holiday, and that I could let myself be completely mesmerized once again. 'Sea of Poppies' was a delight: it bears reading again and once again, for the rich texture of the book allows the second reading to be just as enjoyable as the first. And now, here we have another. I am utterly satisfied to be within the grasp of the second 'Ibis' book, and to know that there is yet another in the series to come. Once the third is done, I shall be bereft. CEC
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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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fascinating characters, well written though a bit long. A good way to learn somthing about an interesting period of history, with viewpoints from different nations. Great if you enjoy historical fiction.
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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: HASH(0x9ce396c0) out of 5 stars 131 reviews
64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccf2258) out of 5 stars 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.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccf2660) out of 5 stars 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.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccf26d8) out of 5 stars 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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccf2a68) out of 5 stars Can Erudition Be Bad? Nov. 22 2011
By sephardit - Published on Amazon.com
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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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ccf28c4) out of 5 stars Book Review - River of Smoke Oct. 18 2011
By Bharat - Published on Amazon.com
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Just finished reading Amitav Gosh's new book, the second of the Ibis trilogy, River of Smoke. The first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies, is primarily based in eastern India, the production center for opium controlled by British companies and businessmen. The second book is mostly based in Canton, the gateway to opium smuggling into rest of China. It is an interesting book and gives the reader a good understanding the events leading to the Opium Wars. As a management consultant I couldn't help notice that the trilogy progressing along the opium value chain and how the business men (drug lords) justify their actions in the name of basic human right of "free trade."

The book has a cast of characters - Chinese and foreigners in Canton - and like a number of past characters in Gosh's books, one gets to see a land from the eye of an expat or a foreigner. I personally enjoy this style as it provides a certain amount of objectivity and sometimes provides a global context to events.

The only part of the book which I did not enjoy much was the long letters that Robert Chinnery, a new character introduced in this book, writes to Paulette Lambert (Puggly). The letters begin with Robert telling Puggly about Canton and these letters though informative are like social or historical lessons. It seems like Gosh wanted to give us a full picture of Canton and uses the letters as a device.

Definitely a book to read and I will wait for the last book of the trilogy. Now to talk about the film adaptation; who do you think would be the best director to take on this project?

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