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River of Smoke

(Ibis Trilogy #2)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  8,537 ratings  ·  931 reviews
In September 1838, a storm blows up on the Indian Ocean and the Ibis, a ship carrying a consignment of convicts and indentured laborers from Calcutta to Mauritius, is caught up in the whirlwind. River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to the crowded harbors of China. There, despite efforts of the emperor to stop them, ships from Europe and India exchange their c ...more
Hardcover, 1st, 522 pages
Published 2011 by Murray
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Desertblues I would say: read the Sea of Poppies before proceeding to the River of Smoke. There is a certain level of mysticism in it which will be more difficult…moreI would say: read the Sea of Poppies before proceeding to the River of Smoke. There is a certain level of mysticism in it which will be more difficult to understand when on has not read the first book of the trilogy. When one has read the first book, I becomes more clear what the connection is between England, India and China. It is far more rewarding for the historical context as well.(less)

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top, i-said, lod
The absence of food doesn’t make a man forsake hunger – it only makes him hungrier.

In this the second instalment of The Ibis trilogy Amitav Ghosh sets the bar incredibly high. So high in fact I got a little dizzy from all the sights and sounds and smells that I was introduced to in so many of the fascinating locals that lay painted in broad strokes before my very eyes.

While the first book in this trilogy focused more on the cultivation of poppies in India and the East Indian Company’s opium
Old News: BAH! I am going to have to come back and fix (may be rewrite) this review later.

Current News: Review updated.

Where were we? On the Ibis, after the storm, right? Amitav Ghosh picks up the threads from there, tells us about the different directions in which the characters were scattered and then we continue to follow Neel who brings us to Canton to witness the drama and politics surrounding the opium trade (psst! smuggling), and an account of the events which wi
Doug Bradshaw
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the most amazing, brilliant historical fiction I have ever read. I've dabbled a little bit with writing, taken a few classes in college and I've read, surely over a thousand books. But I think I admire this book over anything I've ever read thus far and I finally realize, good grief, Doug, don't try to write any more. You don't have what it takes!

Here is painstaking research, wonderful characterizations of people (some of whom actually lived) and every aspect of their personalities and
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed book one of this pending trilogy. Sea of Poppies was action packed, tense, enjoyable reading with characters I liked and rooted for. Imagine my surprise when River of Smoke, which I bought immediately after finishing Sea of Poppies, turned out to be a crashing bore. What happened to our main characters? At the end of Sea of Poppies they escaped in a storm? I was anxious to follow their progress through book two. Mr. Ghosh had other ideas but it seemed to me that he pretty much p ...more
The heaven and hell of opium continues in this 600+ page book, the second in the Ibis Trilogy. Sea Of Poppies was the first installment.

After closing the book I could not decide if I wanted to go for a swim, take a leisurely bath, or a cool shower and then go for a walk. It is such a beautiful day outside.

In the end it was the shower, but the walk lost out. I just wanted to lie back, relax and think.

In the previous book, we all hanged onto the Ibis's deck for dear life. It was in the middle of t
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The preceeding book, Sea of Poppies, ends in a stereotypical cliffhanger, so I expected AG to continue the tale with all the same characters in River of Smoke and AG may have entertained this plan at the time. Instead we are injected, after the briefest enchainement, into a new scenario, namely, the lead up to the Opium War. We follow only a small number of the characters from SoP, and some of these are transformed from agents to spectators.

AG continues exercising his storyteller's flair. Only
Arah-Leah Hay
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the second installment in the Ibis Trilogy and I have no doubt that upon completion it will be nothing short of a masterpiece. This is the most amazing work of historical fiction that I have ever read.

Where "Sea Of Poppies" mostly takes place in India preceding the opium wars, "River Of Smoke" moves us into Canton's Fanqui town full of merchant traders and their shipments of opium. So will begin the opium wars involving India, China and Britain. This book bleeds culture on every page. I
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Jesus Christ, am I glad I’m done with this! How could Ghosh possible create a work so utterly boring?

I absolutely LOVED The Glass Palace, and despite a slow beginning and some troubling language in the first work in this trilogy – Sea of Poppies – I ended up quite taken with it, drawn into the plotlines and characters, and wanted to jump right into this while all of the terminology, names, locations, family lineages, etc, were fresh. However, it seems that barely anything from S of P carries ov
2.5★ rounded up

Oh I feel mean! There was nothing wrong with this book - I just didn't get into it the way I expected to. Amitav Ghosh is one of my favourite authors, and I remember really enjoying #1 of the Ibis trilogy when I read it years ago. But this just didn't have enough story for 550+ pages, and it became a laborious read. I'm hoping that it is an ambitious transition book between #1 and #3.

In the opening pages we find out what happened to the major characters from Sea of Poppies after t
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely amazing!

I liked especially the vivid descriptions of Canton, its people and life during that time in history. The narrative is richly and eloquently layered and poignantly reveals the cultural, moral, philosophical, historical, political and economic aspects and appalling realities of opium trade and wars. Ibis trilogy is indispensable reading to understand the history of China and India.
Mark Staniforth
Dec 27, 2011 rated it liked it
In a literary world whose bestseller lists are clogged up with chick-lit and the memoirs of C-list celebs, it may seem churlish to make the chief criticism of Amitav Ghosh's 519-page 'River Of Smoke' that of over-ambition.
Ghosh's novel - the second in a trilogy that began with the Booker-shortlisted 'Sea Of Poppies' in 2008 - is an epic by any standards: extraordinarily researched; superb in its evocation of a distant time and place.
But strictly in the context of the literary firmament into whi
Mal Warwick
Dec 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trade-fiction
A Brilliant Indian Novel about the 19th Century Opium Trade with China

Balzac (and lots of people after him) thought that “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” Nowhere is that aphorism more baldly illustrated than in the 19th-Century opium trade that enriched England, Scotland, and the United States and created a score of hereditary fortunes that have left their mark on the world for nearly two centuries since. After all, when Europeans introduced China to the practice of mixing opium wi
Flatfoot Vertigo
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What utter fascination and delight to read Amitav Ghosh. His characters are perfectly drawn, from the inside out, and this book in particular, River of Smoke, paints, with a fine and delicate brush, a colorful and ornate portrait of Canton's Fanqui town and the opium trade involving Britain, India, and isolationist China in the middle 1800s.

Historical fiction, this reads more like a fictional novel, full of characters with longing and ambition in a wide range, from self-righteous, racist, imperi
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amitav Ghosh's story-telling must be at least as addicting as opium. In addition to the amazingly well-researched details of the events leading up to the Opium war of 1839-40, and the interwoven and parallel narratives of the European quest for the botanical riches of China (itself a dazzling sub-plot that links both the search for specimens including a fabled flower, and an intriguing account of what Ghosh shows was an important Sino-European chapter in the development of medical art (had me co ...more
Janet Frasier
Where is this book?? It was originally to be published in 10/2010, but my local bookseller hasn't seen it?? My heart is still stranded in that longboat paddling away from the Ibis!!
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
i LOVED this just as much as the 1st book in this unfinished trilogy, Sea of Poppies. Such a captivating story --- the narrative and characters are engaging enough, and then there's the HISTORY - i knew really nothing about the Opium Wars, or this part of the world (mostly takes place in Canton, China), and definitely nothing about the amazing cultural landscape and linguistic creations that grew there. So interesting for a fictionalized historical take on political issues like imperialism and f ...more
Grace Tjan

Let’s cut to the chase: is it as good as the Sea of Poppies? The short answer is (regrettably) no. It is by no means badly written, but it simply does not live up to the promise of its predecessor. Ghosh does a creditable job of telling us about life in the Thirteen Hongs during the interesting period that culminated in the First Opium War, and he chose a protagonist that is well-suited to the task of conveying the subcontinent’s perspective on the whole sordid affair --- but it somehow feels ra
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Opium is like the wind or the tides: it is outside my power to affect its course. A man is neither good nor evil because he sails his ship upon the wind. It is his conduct towards those around him – his friends, his family, his servants – by which he must be judged. This is the creed I live by”

River of Smoke is the second book in the Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. The story starts with an elderly Deeti Colver in Mauritius, visiting her shrine with its pictorial record of the family history. But
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Oh, my... This book sets such a high standard that it makes me think I should go back and "demote" a lot of my five-star books to four! River of Smoke is the second novel of a planned trilogy by Amitov Ghosh. I loved the first one, Sea of Poppies, but delayed reading River of Smoke after it came out, just to prolong the anticipation. I was not disappointed. The novels take place against the backdrop of the opium trade, overseen by the British between India and China. The political, economical, a ...more
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
Wow. Major letdown after Sea of Poppies. The playfulness is gone, replaced by a long didactic slog through the lead up to the Opium Wars. Far too much exposition, with long long excerpting from historical documents, so that the entire novel centers around the dry political machinations of the foreign merchants, and everything else -- particularly the rich panoply of characters that made the first book such a delight -- is pushed to the edges. Even Paulette - who unlike most of the characters fro ...more
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the second part of Amitav Ghosh's trilogy on the Opium wars - arguably the worst episode (among many) of Britain's history. It deals with the nineteenth century opium trade that Britain used - opium grown in India and shipped to China to create addiction there that would change the trade deficit Britain had with China. Before this Britain's imports of tea from China were so high, but exports of anything TO China so low, that the country's coffers to silver were draining fast. So Britain ...more
This is my second read of the second book in the Ibis Trilogy. I have re-read both The Sea of Poppies and this book in preparation of the third book, which I have recently obtained - I found I could only vaguely remember the first, but a fair bit of this book.

I recall that I was fairly disappointed with this book the first time I read it, and at the end of my second reading, I again feel disappointed.

Part of what I enjoyed in The Sea of Poppies was the many characters and their woven stories. W
Oct 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
I loved Sea of Poppies and was anxiously awaiting this sequel; I had to know what would happen to a number of it's characters. I was disappointed. The focus in River of Smoke is on the shady characters that were responsible for the opium trading in China. The story unfolds mainly in Canton, and eve though it is a pleasure to read the description of the town and hear Ghosh's beautiful rendering of the language spoken by the mixture of peoples that populate the city, it is not what I expected. Gho ...more
Tanuj Solanki
The review first appeared, in three installments, in The New Indian Express

At the end of Sea of Poppies, the first novel in the Ibis Trilogy, the cast aboard the schooner is split as five men—convicts and undesirables, broadly speaking—abandon ship during a violent storm somewhere in the Indian ocean, presumably off the Nicobar islands. It is a hook-ending—we have invested in the stories of four of these five characters—which leads us to pick up the second novel, River of Smoke, in anticipation
Thanks Arvind and Jaya, for reading alongwith. :)

4.5 stars
"The flowers of Canton are immortal and will bloom forever" - Yes, they will; at least in my memory.

This was the second instalment of the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. Enjoyed it as much, and in some parts, even more than the first book.

THe first book dealt with India, poppy cultivation of the early 19th century , the tiff between the British and the feudal lords, and the aftermaths thereof.

Second book continues with the lives of a few o
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I found the recommendation for River of Smoke on NPR, and ordered it immediately. I could have read it's predecessor, Sea of Poppies, which would have helped me keep the characters straight, but although the book is dense with detail, I just slowed down and enjoyed the ride.

River of Smoke paints a picture of a time when the major powers of the world are making big bucks shipping opium into China, the risks are not so bad and the pay-off is high. River of Smoke is rich in visual detail, as you ho
Sara Salem
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Best critique of free trade I have ever read!!!
Bobby D
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of the benefits of a summer trip to London is to discover that a much anticipated new book is available there before its United States publication date. So much to my surprise I was able to purchase Amitar Ghosh’s new book, the second of his Ibis trilogy, RIVER OF SMOKE. The first book being the outstanding SEA OF POPPIES (A+) which I read in 2009. Ghosh continues to amaze with his newest volume as both an excellent writer and story teller. I can not wait for the concluding volume in a few y ...more
Jun 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-from-india
Like so many readers of Sea of Poppies, I have been waiting for this ... My favorite Amitav Ghosh moment was not when I saw an excellent and insightful "in conversation" with him at a book fair some years back, but when Vikram Seth, author of Suitable Boy, told me I had hair just like Amitav Ghosh.

I can say say with certainty that this will not disappoint fans of the Ibis saga. Ghosh has crafted a book that draws the reader into the personal stories of his characters, while giving us a rarely-d
From June 2012 — The second book in the Ibis trilogy yet again transports us into an exotic and unfamiliar world, with rich details and characters who seem to live and breathe, so that the overall effect is as though we have traveled in time to the 19th century and landed squarely within the pages of the book. In the first chapter, Ghosh brings us up to date with some of the main characters who were aboard the Ibis as a cargo of slave labourers bound for Mauritius in Sea of Poppies and sums up w ...more
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should one read sea of poppies first to understand river of smokes ? or is it required that it be read in series only ? 9 84 Dec 16, 2012 09:47PM  

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Amitav Ghosh is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. His most recent novel, Sea of Poppies, is the first volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexan

Other books in the series

Ibis Trilogy (3 books)
  • Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1)
  • Flood of Fire

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