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Friday, June 24, 2011

Amitav Ghosh: River of Smoke-Book Review, Reading between smoke & water!

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Amitav Ghosh is raising an amphibious memorial to the Opium Wars. Arul Mani reads the second instalment in his Ibis trilogy
Amitav Ghosh
Second round Amitav Ghosh
Photo: Dayanita Singh
TO SEE the available volumes of the Ibis trilogy as historical fiction and to thus prose endlessly about sweep and canvas is perhaps to travesty what Amitav Ghosh has achieved. ‘Good’ historical fiction is marked by a happy lack of ambition — it confines itself to making reassuring gestures towards the past and so implicitly affirming the solidity of the present. River of Smoke uses the past to make several oblique comments on the present — the noisy British defence of trade in opium as free trade serves only to remind the reader of similar contretemps in recent times.

This second volume of the trilogy opens with what seems like a general-issue expedition to a faraway temple, many years after the events described in Sea of Poppies (the first volume). Deeti, who chose indentured labour over local grief in the first book, is now a silver-haired matriarch in a remote corner of Mauritius, who shepherds her large family to their shrine up a forbidding tangle of rocks. We are offered tantalising hints of what happened after the company on board the Ibis parted ways (some reunions have occurred, apparently) — and so there’s a healthy curiosity about many things for which no explanation is offered. The shrine turns out to be a cave that Deeti once took refuge in, and the act of worship is an en famille effort to recapitulate family history aided by the charcoal drawings that she and various others of the Ibis have put up on the walls of the cave


Full Review at,

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