I really enjoyed Ghosh's other book Hungry Tide, so I was looking forward to this one. I must admit, it took me a while to get into this book. I found the various accents of the characters difficult to understand and I felt that I was being introduced to a lot of different characters really quickly without enough context...however, as I listened further all this changed. All of a sudden I was immersed in the rich world that Ghosh created and I was loath to stop listening. By the time this book ended, I wanted more and was sad that the book had ended. This book will likely be a 2nd listen for me in the future.
This book is just so good, on so many levels. The narrator is the best I've heard, he really nails all the accents and it's wonderful to hear the correct pronunciation of the mix of languages used in the book. You won't be sorry if you listen to this one.
I usually avoid historical fiction at all costs, but decided to give this book a chance.
Unfortunately, it suffered from the same flaws as many of its ilk, in my opinion:
The history and the characters are depicted equally, which detracts from both, making them light and dull, respectively.
Also, the characters are either innocent pure angels, or the most dastardly heartless villains, which in both cases makes them generally annoying and predictable.
So, while it wasn't a badly written book, I got fed up about 2/3 through and gave up.
I listened to this book again after finishing the third book in the Ibis trilogy. Ghosh is an extremely erudite author who weaves his knowledge of history, culture, botany and human nature into his tales, and creates believable, fully wrought characters to carry this freight.
From the first, I found the book enchanting, a portal to another world. For all of his other shortcomings, the narrator did a good job of creating a unique voice for each character. I also thought that he handled women's voices fairly well. Unfortunately there were some inconsistencies in his performance that diminished the effect of his good intentions.
Listening for a second time, I enjoyed the book on a different level, but I did have the dawning realization that a narrator with more knowledge of the dialects involved might have been a better choice. I have zero knowledge of Bengali, Hindi, Pidgen or Mandarin, so the mispronunciations of those words were lost on me. However, the accents of certain characters were inconsistent, and the narrator's characterization of a gay character was simply irritating. Nobody talks like that. The narrator's style was also extremely high energy, as one reviewer mentioned, more suited to a two-minute movie trailer than a multi-hour novel.
This series of books has really aroused my interest in 19th century sailing ships and the nautical life, as well as the history of the East India Company, the first modern multi-national company. It is filled with the details of life on a trading vessel, life in Canton, China, and life in Bengali India. The discussion of botany and the flower trade was also a high point.
I like it that one of the main characters is from Baltimore and stands on the edge of the color line. His character sounded to me like a Charleston, SC butler, but I guess it's hard to know what a "octoroon" carpenter from Baltimore in the 1840's might sound like.
The subsequent narrators in the Ibis trilogy series are, overall, an improvement, although I'm not able to assess the verity of their pronunciations of the different languages/patois.
As a producer, I realize how much research and talent would go into creating a faithful rendition of American, British, Hindi, Parsi, French & Chinese accents, as well as the associated Pidgen combinations of these tongues. You'd have to start with a narrator who was already strong in at least two (say, British English and Hindi) and deeply research and/or find coaches for the rest. It might be helpful to have the author review the dailies.
I'm happy to have been able to overlook the narrator's deficiencies enough to enjoy this book immensely. Yes, the ending is abrupt. Apros pos of that, I would request Audible.com to leave a beat or two of silence before inserting their tag ("THIS IS AUDIBLE!") at the end. Let the listener process for a moment!
As other reviewers note - this book has a ton of Indic and other non English names and words that the reader pronounces like a very British pukka sahib. Most English folk I know can pronounce Indian words a bit better than this. Moreover the accents range from the indescribable to the unpronounceable! Indian women are rendered as falsetto men with what appears to be a Caribbean accent! Some Indian men appear to have Chinese accents. All very unintentionally funny, but this does take away from the story. The Indian words are so badly pronounced (at one point the Brahmaputra is called the baramputra, singhs become seenghs, ...)
This is a slow moving, somewhat majestic first part of a trilogy. There is much detail and conversation in various dialects. The audible vocabulary of Indian and Chinese culture is harder to understand than it might be in a book, where there is opportunity to look up the foreign words. The spelling is not obvious. The overall flavor of the times before and during the Opium Wars comes through and lends historical interest. There are many characters in this trilogy, each with a distinctive story.
Note: this review also pertains to Ghosh's second book of the trilogy,
After hearing Mr. Ghosh interviewed about this book in front of an audience, I thought there would be a lot more real history in this 'historical fiction novel', but there is not. I'm more of a nonfiction fan, so please excuse me for being very disappointed with this book.
phenomenal performance by Phil Gigante, deserves an award for sure. Fascinating history, meticulous linguistic research by Ghosh pay off in a big way. Can't wait for the next installment! And can we please get audio productions of all of Ghosh's past work?