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Archive for December, 2011

River of Smoke

River of Smoke follows Sea of Poppies, as the second instalment of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy. Whereas the first book illustrated the rich details of opium production from its harvest to its packaging in earthenware balls for shipment, this second volume follows the path of the opium to its trade in Canton. The heterogeneous world of the Indian Ocean trading community is again clearly illustrated, with discursions into botany, painting, and the varied food available in each port. The subaltern can indeed speak in these books: characters who are of the “elite” are not the focus, rather those lower on the ladder, more directly affected by all aspects of the drug trade. As in Sea of Poppies, much of the dialogue is in various dialects — in this book, the pidgin of the Canton trading port — thus weaving a rich tapestry of the cosmopolitan diversity of colonial ports at the time. After production and trade, asks reviewer Katrina Gulliver, will the final book in the trilogy focus on opium’s end users?