Friday, August 12, 2011

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

Having read Sea of Poppies, I was totally excited when this book was coming out. So much so that I pre-ordered it so that I would be one of the first few to read it.
Alas, it was a little disappointing. All the characters, barring a handful, were new. I saw an interview with Amitav Ghosh where he had said that this book could be read in isolation from the first - and it is true. It could have actually been called "The tale of Bahram" because at the end of it that was the only character that was developed.
In Outlook's review of the book they criticized the use of the letter writing technique. Now I thought it was a good way of getting the story across, but after a while - particularly in the last chapter, I found that it really was wearing the reader down. In fact, the ending seemed a bit hurried to me.
What is fascinating is that Ghosh took one chapter of history - the First Opium Wars (1839 to 1842) and reconstructed all the foregoing events that led up to it. It is amazing the extent to which the British went to in order to quell the trade imbalance. Egad, it really makes one think!! Opium - you don't approve of it in your own country, but it's fine for the Chinese!! And how the British used India - where it was chiefly grown!!

"Although the Chinese had used opium as a medicine, there was no widespread addiction before the British arrived." - Robert Trout

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