The Shadow Lines – Amitav Ghosh

Finished off on the Cruz del Sur luxury bus from Lima to Huaraz, I thoroughly enjoyed Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. It’s an early novel, and focuses on a family spread across the globe, from Dhakar to Calcutta to London, and a young man’s memories of key events in the sub continent’s post-partition, and his family’s, history. It’s noticeably free from the magical / spiritual strands that feature in his later works.

Author’s page: The Shadow Lines – Amitav Ghosh

The Circle of Reason – Amitav Ghosh

Started during our ten days at Corrie Craggie this May, The Circle of Reason was completed in back in London. The narrator, Alu, has a more epic journey. Having grown from orphaned boy to master weaver in rural Bengal, the death of his eccentric adopted father, and the jealousy of a local petty politician, convince the police that he’s a terrorist. As bird-watching police inspector Jyoti Das closes in on Alu’s hide out in southern India, Alu ‘escapes’ across the Indian Ocean to a nameless (but Qatari-like) Emirate on the Arabian peninsula, where we are shown the lives of the illegal, indentured workers who build the skyscrapers and cook and clean for ex pat and local families alike.

Author’s page: The Circle of Reason – Amitav Ghosh

River of Smoke – Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s follow up to Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke is dense with historical fact and cultural insights told by fascinating (and not always fictitious) characters.

This novel traces the 19th century trade route from India to Canton, focussing on events leading up to the outbreak of the First Opium War, but with sub plots covering the more innocent trade in mutually exotic plants and the meeting of European and Chinese classical painting styles.

River of Smoke features character old and new. From the Sea of Poppies we find ourselves back in the company of Neel, a Bengali Zamindarfallen on hard times, and his fellow convict half Indian-half Chinese, Ah Fatt, Paulette, the daughter of the former Assistant curator of Botanical Gardens of Calcutta, and would-be artist Robin Chinnery. (If I had one gripe, with 18 months having passed since I’d finished Sea of Poppies I really wished I could remember more of their stories so far.)

We meet some great new characters (or, if they were in the Sea of Poppies, ones I’d forgotten!) – Parsi opium trader Bahram Modi (aka the ‘Seth’), who tells most of the tale of the opium trade and, it transpires, is Ah Fatt’s father, and trader-botanist Fitcher Penrose who meets Paulette in the abandoned gardens of Pamplemousses on Mauritius.

I’m really looking forward to the final instalment of the Ibis Trilogy… but suspect I need to start from the beginning again to make the most of all the stories. And I’ll need wikipedia closer to hand to fully understand all the honorifics and adjectives!

Author’s webpage: River of Smoke – Amitav Ghosh

The River of Smoke wikipedia page provides a god summary too.

Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh

Part one of Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy charting the connections between India and China, the British Empire and the Chinese Emperors, and the lucrative trade in opium and cheap labour in the late 1800s. Great characters, centred on the Ibis, a refitted American slave ship. Large chunks of the dialogue are at first incomprehensible, being either in the hotchpotch lingua franca of those who live their lives on the sea or the Anglo-Hindi and Anglo-Bengali hybrids that I’m guessing evolved during the British Empire, but once your inner ear tunes in it all starts to make more sense….

Author webpage: Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh