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Monday, July 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke": A history reclaimed!

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Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke gets a review by Shashi Tharoor - DC photo
Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke gets a review by Shashi Tharoor - DC photo.

*Book: River of Smoke
*Author: Amitav Ghosh
*Publisher: Penguin India
*Price: Rs 699
Over the last two decades, Amitav Ghosh has established himself as a writer of uncommon talent who combines literary flair with a rare seriousness of purpose.
His first novel, The Circle of Reason, seemed very much in the Rushdie magical-realist tradition, but he has evolved considerably since then, notably in works like The Shadow Lines and The Glass Palace, which deal movingly and powerfully with post-imperial dislocations in Bengal and Burma.
Three years ago, the publication of Sea of Poppies, his sixth novel (and the first of a projected trilogy), marked both a departure and an arrival.
It saw Ghosh painting upon a much larger canvas than ever before, with a multitude of characters and an epic vision; and the novel was his first to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Though he did not win, the anticipation surrounding the second of the trilogy has remained high.
River of Smoke does not disappoint. Sea of Poppies ended amidst a raging storm, rocking the triple-masted schooner, the Ibis, and its colourful array of seamen, convicts and labourers sailing forth in the course of transforming their lives.
We now learn that two other vessels have also been caught up in a similar (or perhaps the same?) storm: the Anahita, a sumptuously-built cargo vessel owned by the Bombay Parsi merchant Bahram Modi and carrying his biggest shipment of raw opium for sale in Canton, and the Redruth, a Cornish vessel with a cargo of unusual flora on which sails a Cornish botanist looking for rare plants, especially the mythical golden camellia, in China.
A handful of characters from the previous volume re-emerge from the Ibis, notably the Bengal-raised orphan Paulette, who accompanies the botanist Penrose, and the dispossessed raja, Neel, who signs on as Modi’s munshi.

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