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River of Smoke


River of Smoke is the latest book by Bengali-Indian author Amitav Ghosh and is the second in the Ibis trilogy. (The first book is called Sea of Poppies, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.)

River of Smoke tracks the crew of three ships caught in a storm in the year before the Opium Wars.  It's a rollicking tale of smugglers, gay art collectors and... botanists!  This is a great story and a well-written book.  What's most fascinating is that Ghosh builds the story with real historical characters, and uses their documents and speeches to add detail and texture.

It's maybe not quite as good as Sea of Poppies, but still, a great follow-up.  If you like these books, check out his wonderful earlier book called In An Antique Land, which weaves contemporary stories from Egyptian villages with adventures of 11th-century Indian traders.