River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

Rating - Read

There are fewer signs of true love than someone letting you read a book they are halfway through simply because you are unwell and need the cheering up. Sis sent me River of Smoke to help me pass time (Why could not I have read something else, you ask. Oh well, being unwell comes with its share of pampering and tantrums).

River of Smoke sort of takes off where Sea of Poppies leaves. Not in the sense of picking off where the cast left as much as in following the opium thread. The first book, based entirely in India, centred around the cultivation and processing of opium. This book brings us to Canton, where the opium is being sold and consumed. Deeti makes an early appearance. Pauline and Neel, who both end up in China appear as secondary characters. The main storyline revolves around Bahram Modi, a Parsi trader who is profiting from the opium trade along with various British trading firms.

The story slowly builds on the events as the Chinese go from being a link in the opium trade chain to an adversary who has finally woken up to the ill-effects of opium.

This book is also filled with little details that soak you in Cantonese China and its streets full of traders of different nationalities. Even as the big picture moves on, it is the little things that hold your attention – descriptions of 80 course meals, Bahram’s own personal motivations to carry on the trade, Neel’s struggles to be a clerk and so on. Ghosh does not hurry through to finish the story. Instead he stops, potters about a bit smelling the roses and then gently pushes along.

Just the kind of book one would like to read with time on one’s hands.

I can’t wait for the final part of the trilogy to come.


hAAthi said...

omg we were just discussing amitav ghosh and how much i love him, at work today :O and someone recco'd this book to me..full to coincidence happening..

when i finally get some time (inshallah there will be a day when that happens!) on hand i shall pick it up.

Anita said...

hAAthi - Too much! Hope you get to read it fast.