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River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke

Part of the Ibis Trilogy Series
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You really should read the first in this trilogy, The Sea of Poppies, before embarking upon this huge, sprawling epic history for, although not all the characters of that first book are followed here, you will appreciate this so much more if you have an idea of who is whom. It covers the opium trade when Hong Kong was empty and Mauritius prosperous, when rich British and American merchants put profit above everything else and opium smuggling in Canton was rife. It is a full of fascinating detail and rich in history. Dense and totally absorbing, it is a must read. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

The Ibis Trilogy:
1. Sea of Poppies
2. River of Smoke
3. Flood of Fire

If you like Amitav Ghosh you might also like to read books by Lisa See, Lesley Downer and Tash Aw.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.  You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Angie Rhodes - 'Amitav writes so well, that even the well-travelled reader will not tire of the places the characters travel too. I can still see and taste the Orient...hmmm'
  • Wendy Stubbs - 'Another brilliant read from Amita Ghosh following his first exciting novel the Sea of Poppies.'
  • Magdalena Vidgen - 'I would recommend River of Smoke to all who love real characters and fascinating background in a book.'
  • Barbara Goldie - 'A long and absorbing read, engaging throughout!'
  • Edel Waugh - 'I recommend this to anyone interested in history and this specific part of the world, richly described and intoxicatingly good!'
  • Jan Kirkcaldy - 'So many characters with such different stories to tell can be enjoyed almost in a theatrical way as you look in from the outside.' 


River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

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. When the seas settle, five men have disappeared - two lascars, two convicts and one of the passengers. Did the same storm upend the fortunes of those aboard the Anahita, an opium carrier heading towards Canton? And what fate befell those aboard the Redruth, a sturdy two-masted brig heading East out of Cornwall? Was it the storm that altered their course or were the destinies of these passengers at the mercy of even more powerful forces?On the grand scale of an historical epic, 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 cargoes of opium for boxes of tea, silk, porcelain and silver. Among them are Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi opium merchant out of Bombay, his estranged half-Chinese son Ah Fatt, the orphaned Paulette and a motley collection of others whose pursuit of romance, riches and a legendary rare flower have thrown together. All struggle to cope with their losses - and for some, unimaginable freedoms - in the alleys and crowded waterways of 19th century Canton.


'Ghosh's novel is a tense, compelling account... The accumulation of minutiae puts the reader so firmly in the time and place that the whole thing becomes as hypnotic as an opium dream and pretty unputdownable'
Daily Mail

'For those who like to see history bought alive through the deployment of wave upon wave of plausible detail, River of Smoke should prove a marvellous read'
Literary Review

'Any good historical novel should teach the reader some history as well as sweeping him or her along with an unfolding narrative. Few do this as well as Amitav Ghosh. A book whose conclusion again left me panting for the next volume in this trilogy'
Financial Times

'The novel's strength lies in how thoroughly Ghosh fills out his research with his novelistic fantasy, seduced by each new situation that presents itself and each new character, so that the scenes read with a sensual freshness as if they were happening now'

'Best of all, Ghosh, through the depth of his research, lightly worn, has captured the many cross-currents of a fascinating historical period'

Praise for Sea of Poppies

'Ripping post-colonial yarn ... Ghosh spins a fine story with a quite irresistible flow, breathing exuberant life ... an absorbing vision

About the Author

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh was born in India and spent his childhood in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and northern India. He was educated in Delhi, Oxford and Egypt and has taught in a number of Indian and American universities. He is the author of a travel book and three novels. His work has appeared in publications worldwide, including the New Yorker, the Observer and the New York Times. He is married with two children and lives in New York.

Author photo © Dayanita Singh - Dream Villa Production

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Book Info

Publication date

10th May 2012


Amitav Ghosh

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John Murray Publishers Ltd an imprint of John Murray General Publishing Division


592 pages


Literary Fiction
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction



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