BkFt: Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy

Fans of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy have been waiting 4 years for the third novel.  Finally, this year, Flood of Fire has been published.  The highly acclaimed trilogy is set in the early 19th century and follows the fates of those who met aboard the ship Ibis during the opium trade between India and China by the Dutch East India Company just before the outbreak of the opium wars.

These historical novels are recommended reading for some comparative literature courses and they have received recognition with Sea of Poppies being shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker prize and River of Smoke shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary prize.  Some critics have noted the great detail that Ghosh has included in these novels which have translated into a transportation into those times like no other.

“In historical novels the past can sometimes feel tamed; hindsight, hovering just off the page, tells us that we know what it all added up to and what came of it (the First Opium War, during which British gunboats enforced a treaty opening Chinese ports to international trade, comes shortly after the ending of this novel). But Ghosh’s novels somehow succeed in taking us back inside the chaos of when “then” was “now”. His grasp of the detail of the period is exhaustive – he is so thoroughly submerged in it – that readers can’t possibly remember all the things he shows them, or hold on to all the life-stories of all the characters he introduces. Both novels are cabinets of curiosities, crowded with items that hold a story of their own.”  Tessa Hadley’s Guardian review of River of Smoke

The publication of Flood of Fire marks the end of the Ibis Trilogy so, if you haven’t yet read any of these novels, now is the perfect time to embark upon a journey through Ghosh’s fantastic historical expedition through time.

Sea of Poppies (Ibis 1) by Amitav Ghosh

sea of poppies ibis trilogy 1 amitav ghosh“At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton.” (GoodReads)


River of Smoke (Ibis 2) by Amitav Ghosh

river of smoke  ibis trilogy 2 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. 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 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.” (GoodReads)


Flood of Fire (Ibis 3) by Amitav Ghosh

flood of fire  ibis trilogy 3 amitav ghosh“It is 1839 and tension has been rapidly mounting between China and British India following the crackdown on opium smuggling by Beijing. With no resolution in sight, the colonial government declares war.  One of the vessels requisitioned for the attack, the Hind, travels eastwards from Bengal to China, sailing into the midst of the First Opium War. The turbulent voyage brings together a diverse group of travellers, each with their own agenda to pursue. Among them is Kesri Singh, a sepoy in the East India Company who leads a company of Indian sepoys; Zachary Reid, an impoverished young sailor searching for his lost love, and Shireen Modi, a determined widow en route to China to reclaim her opium-trader husband’s wealth and reputation. Flood of Fire follows a varied cast of characters from India to China, through the outbreak of the First Opium War and China’s devastating defeat, to Britain’s seizure of Hong Kong.” (GoodReads)

Have you read any of the Ibis novels?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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