Magazine article World Literature Today

River of Smoke

Magazine article World Literature Today

River of Smoke

Article excerpt

Amitav Ghosh. River of Smoke. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2011. isbn 9780374174231

Throughout his work, Amitav Ghosh writes with a global perspective, evident not only in the range of locations and variety of characters he depicts, but also in his insistence on connections that cross presumed boundaries. At the beginning of River of Smoke, the second volume in Ghosh's Ibis trilogy, Neel, the deported raja whose story begins in Ghosh's novel Sea of Poppies, remarks of a hurricane that it is "looking for new possibilities, creating fresh beginnings, rewriting destinies and throwing together people who would never have met." This passage is vintage Ghosh, aware simultaneously of the destructive and constructive forces that bind people and histories together. Throughout River of Smoke, characters' paths cross, sometimes fleetingly and at other times in intricate and life-changing ways, as Ghosh probes the human frailty and fortitude of individuals caught up in the opium trade to China.

This novel begins with Deeti, a central character in Sea of Poppies. Her shrine in Mauritius contains pictures of characters and events familiar to readers of Sea of Poppies, but Ghosh quickly shifts the scene to Canton and the small, sometimes convivial and sometimes claustrophobic Foreign Enclave that is home to opiumsmuggling merchants. While Paulette and Neel from Sea of Poppies appear frequently in River of Smoke, Ghosh introduces a wide cast of new characters, most compelling of whom is Seth Bahram Modi, a trader from Bombay who has built his fortune by selling opium in China. …

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