The Ibis, loaded to its gunwales with a cargo of indentured servants, is in the grip of a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; among the dozens flailing for survival are Neel, the pampered raja who has been convicted of embezzlement; Paulette, the French orphan masquerading as a deck-hand; and Deeti, the widowed poppy grower fleeing her homeland with her lover, Kalua.
The storm also threatens the clipper ship Anahita, groaning with the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India for Canton. And the Redruth, a nursery ship, carries Frederick “Fitcher” Penrose, a horticulturist determined to track down the priceless treasures of China that are hidden in plain sight: its plants that have the power to heal, or beautify, or intoxicate. All will converge in Canton’s Fanqui-town, or Foreign Enclave: a tumultuous world unto itself where civilizations clash and sometimes fuse. It is a powder keg awaiting a spark to ignite the Opium Wars.
Spectacular coincidences, startling reversals of fortune, and tender love stories abound. But this is much more than an irresistible page-turner. The blind quest for money, the primacy of the drug trade, the concealment of base impulses behind the rhetoric of freedom: in River of Smoke the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries converge, and the result is a consuming historical novel with powerful contemporary resonance. Critics praised Sea of Poppies for its vibrant storytelling, antic humor, and rich narrative scope; now Amitav Ghosh continues the epic that has charmed and compelled readers all over the globe.
©2011 Amitav Ghosh (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
I read a number of professional reviews of this book (not on this site) before buying and now that I've listened to it, I feel like I read a different book from them. This book is so very dissimilar from Sea of Poppies - that book introduced a variety of characters and we followed them on their complex interesting journey that brought them together and beyond. What I found in this book was soooo much description of the time in place (ie: Canton and the pearl river delta area). It didn't seem very much happened. Diti's story opened the book, but then disappeared. Included in this story is Ah Fatt, Neal and Paulette as well as some new characters.
While short on storyline, the book is full of descriptive details that seem very authentic and vivid. But for much of the book, you'll need to be content with that and anticipating a third book that may bring more action, since the author is leading up to the Opium wars. I feel like this book should be part 1 of the next book. But as I say, my take on this book is different than others, so you may feel differently.
I wish that this book had been narrated by the narrator of SOP. This narrator is good except his very over-the-top rendition of Robin. Yes, we get he's gay. That's not the problem, it's that he often sounds like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a flaming gay man. He sounds so modern. We get most of the description of Canton in letters Robin writes to Paulette, so we hear a LOT of that character. And I think that is why so much of description was annoying to me - a little of the Robin voice as they chose to do it goes a long way. Ghosh added some light-hearted humor with Robin (ie: his unlimited pet names for Paulette), but the humor was lost to me in the extreme performance of Robin. I would not recommend this book other than it continues the trilogy and probably will be needed to get the full experience of the third part when it comes out.
One of the obvious downsides is that there is no glossary ( apparently the print edition has one). So, even though I knew it must be something else (Fanqui Town as it turns out) I couldn't help hearing it as Funky town and imagining an appropriate Sino-GeorgeClinton beat. In any case, I LIKED the narration and thought Robin was hardly over the top in his Gayness. From the text alone, without Mr. Jhaveri's hilarious rendition, it is obvious that the 20th century has no monopoly on flamers.
I quickly got used to not understanding certain words and one can understand them adequately in context. I enjoyed that Ghosh pauses in his description of scenes to list things (I guess generally in Bengali or Hindi): "the alley was crowded with pudongs, khalisha, mradupamen, lascars, sepoys and phonkas." Particularly good are the lists when there are descriptions of food. It is easy (and a good exercise) to be drawn into contemplating the deep immorality of the opium trade and realize how recently this history was brushed aside since it was Heathen Chinee. This, of course, is why WE are now addicted to plastic crap. The Celestial Ones are having the last laugh.
Wonderful writing and insight into a shocking period in world history. But, the narrator, who was fine for most of the voices, was absolutely horrible in the part of Robin. So horrible, overblown, and annoying that it was painful to listen to and I came close to just buying the book in print to avoid listening to him. I wonder what the author thinks of the narrator's interpretation of this important character. It really ruined this book for me and I have been waiting for it for three years. I wonder what kind of quality control was untertaken before this was released. Not enough I think.
The story, though set in 1830s Canton, is full of metaphors for today's world. The British opium merchants cry "free trade" as they amass fortunes by peddling their drug in China. The Emperor tries to eradicate the trade, but is thwarted by corruption in his own bureaucracy.
The story is thoroughly engaging, the reader is excellent, and the tale imparts a segment of history many of us in the the Western World know little about.
Before reading River of Smoke, one would do well to read the first of the Ibis Trilogy, Sea Of Poppies.
The cast of characters is broad and sympathetic, even with their flaws. Throughout the narrative I was concerned and anxious about the fate of each, and I can hardly wait for the the conclusion in the third volume, not yet published.
Yes, because I love the narration, I am looking at all of the books that are performed by this narrator. I loved the characters, so many interesting character studies, I loved the history and the subject.
Hard to pick one, images of Canton in this time period, the flower boats, the description of an opium high.
No, but I am definitely going to in future!
A romance with opium, flowers and human frailty
How does this narrator master so many accents and voices? He is incredible!
The cast of characters from the last book.
You have a few new characters with interesting storyline, but overall the story is loaded so much with irrelevant information that it becomes tedious.
The next book of course. Hoping that's better.
Robin's accent is jarring and over the top. And most of his story is through letters he writes. Hard to picture such an accent for a letter.
Disappointment. Specially since the first part of the trilogy was so good.
I love audible so much that I have two accounts. I'll take listening to a great book over watching TV almost every time.
Sure. This book is a departure from my reads of late-Jonathan Maberry-the Joe Ledger Series. River of Smoke is the second in a series. Ghosh and the reader benefits from his background and research. It was a real education on the opium trade and the opium wars.
I know other reviews panned Mr. Jhaveri's performance, but I though he did a fabulous job. There are many many difference accents and languages that make up this story. I enjoyed listening to this book, and the other members of my book club thought it would be a better listen than read. They struggled with the pigeon speak.
The first chapter tells the reader what happened to the people who were left on the boat at the end of the Sea of Poppies. I thought that this couldn't be the first part of the book (because it started out so many years after the boat landed).
This is a fascinating continuation of the story started in Sea of Poppies about the opium trade between India and China in the first half of the 19th century, and its global ramifications. An intriguing set of characters, customs and events bring this obscure period of history to life. Beautifully performed. I would have liked to hear about a few more characters from volume 1, and look forward to volume 3.
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