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Book Review #37: River of Smoke

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 558

One word review: Trenchant!

Did you know?

The city of Canton in which the dramatic story of River of Smoke revolves around, is now called as Guangzhou.

River of Smoke is the second instalment in The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. The story continues from where it was left off in Sea of Poppies. Like it's predecessor, the book is rich in cultural description of a multitude of characters, locations and nationalities. In order to read this book, one must have read the previous instalment.

Favorite Lines from the Book:

Fitcher could not help thinking that this was how an explorer might feel on beholding a ruined temple in the jungle

The majority of the story occurs at Southeast Asia; in the budding years of Hong Kong and the golden period of Canton, with it's ineluctable fall impending. Initially giving a precursor of what has happened to all the penetrating characters who were exposed and developed in Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke focuses majorly on one of the protagonists and introduces another piercing character, Seth Bahramji, to whom readers will definitely get empathized eventually. And with him we come across a surplus of characters, each and every one of them having their own incisive exposition and intriguing background story.

In Canton, stripped of the multitude wrappings of home, family, community, obligation and decorum, Bahram had experienced the emergence of a new persona

Majority of the story then concentrates on the politics surrounding our new characters which is both dramatic and enthralling. If the beauty of Sea of Poppies lies in the exposition of it's characters, the beauty of the River of Smoke lies in it's exposition of locations. The author has simply and quite brilliantly brought the places live into our imagination through the narration and description. I, as a common reader, many times wished I could be in the land of Canton during the 19th century.

He insists that the world owes these studios a great debt because they have made possible what people of modest means could only ever dream of

Furthermore, certain cardinal characters from the previous instalment continue to flourish through subplots in this instalment. And there is one interesting sequence where in we, the readers become readers within; a narration within a narration. It was definitely an innovative and fascinating sequence to read through.

for I do think it possible, that I may have at last encountered the One - the True Friend I have always sought.

Exceeding my expectations, and surmounting the level of narration set in the first instalment, River of Smoke, is another brilliant and incisive work from Amitav Ghosh that every bibliophile must read.

Verdict: Well, I'm already reading the third book, what about you?

Checkout the Video Review of the Book in MWM Channel

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