Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh (2015, Part Three of The Ibis Trilogy, 624 pages)

Works in The Ibis Trilogy

Sea of Poppies - published 4/2008, read 4/2012

River of Smoke - Published 6/2012, read 2/2015

Flood of Fire - Published 3/2015, read 5/2017

Flood of Fire of Fire is the final installment in The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.  The Trilogy is set largely in the Bay of Bengal region of India and in the Canton region of China.  It is historical fiction on a grand scale, over 1600 pages in total.  It's center of focus is the impact of the opium trade on India and China, focusing on the period leading up to the first opium war, 1839 to 1842.

The ship The Ibis, was once used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  A former first mate, Zachary, his mother was an slave owned by his white father, serves as kind of a unifying character.

Book One of The Ibis Trilogy focuses on the impact of the opium trade on people living in the Bengali region of India, near the Bay of Bengal.

Book Two focuses more on the areas of China where opium entered the country, near Canton.  It shows the destruction the drug reaped on the Chinese.

Book Three details the economic aspects of the opium trade and very excitingly depicts naval and land battles between the English and the Chinese.  It goes into a lot of fascinating detail about The British East India Company, which had a very large army.  We learned what is was like to be an English officer, an Indian sepoy in the service of the army, the wife of a top British officer, a servant of an officer and much more.  I think anyone interested in 19th century India, English Colonial activity, the history of the drug trade, or the British East India company will love this book. As The Flood of Fire opens Zachary is in a bit of trouble.  The Ibis has stopped in Bengal and cannot sail for months.  The owner cannot or will not support him while the boat is being repaired.  He is trained as a ship carpenter and is offered a job restoring a Junk to be used as a pleasure craft by a high ranking East India Company officer.  In a weird, ok some will find this unintentionally funny, I think, segment the owner's wife observes him one day, through a telescope, polishing a brass handle.  She notices he often does this and becomes convinced he was engaging frequent masterbation, considered by the woman a great sin.  She approaches him, at first he has no idea what she is talking about, and offers him a brochure on dealing with this "vice".  Soon they become sexually involved, a horrible social offense for both.  During their sexual encounters they speak in pidgin English, I found this over done and silly almost.  Zachary becomes very involved in the opium trade and in naval battles.

Sea of Fire also focuses on an Indian servant of a British officer as well as the widow of an Indian woman, her family was rich from the opium trade, who discovers her husband had a long time mistress, a Chinese woman,  and a son in Canton.  There is a lot of drama surrounding her trip to Canton to meet her husband's son, now a young man. Characters in the previous two books, like Paulette, reappear in Book Three.

To me the best thing, and I'm enthralled by this aspect, was the historical details, the many terms I learned, the inside look at the opium trade and the British East India Company, life in Bengali, and the pervasive corruption and evil of the drug trade.  We also see how the drug trade helped make Hong Kong a great city.

Some say the characters in Book Three are not as well developed as those in the first two segments and I guess I agree.

Don't consider reading Flood of Fire  without reading the first two installments.
To read it in full is a big commitment of reading time.  I was able to recall much of the first two segments by reading my posts on them.  My reading of the work was  over a five year period as I waited for parts two and three to be published.  In the interim I read the author's very good work set in mid 19th century Burma, The Glass Palace.

I strongly endorse this Trilogy to lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the time and place the book covers. The work has a kind of old fashioned feel to it which I relished.

Ghosh spent over ten years working on these books, you can see tremendous research behind the details.


Official Site of Amitav Ghosh

 My Prior Posts on Amitav Ghosh


Buried In Print said...

This trilogy has been on my TBR for years; I keep saying that I need to be in a particular mood to read it, because I feel as though it's the kind of story which would require being immersed in it, whereas my usual reading style is very fragmented, with at least six books on the go at any time. But I think I need to make it a reading project; you make it sound so rewarding, and who doesn't love a new reading project!

Mel u said...

Buried in Print. Since you wrote your very appreciated comment I added a book trailer on the Trilogy by Ghosh.