Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Flood of Fire - by Amitav Ghosh

My review of "Flood of Fire: A Novel (The Ibis Trilogy)" by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s book is a well-researched glimpse into the history and politics of British imperialism and the business of narcotic drugs and opium, masked as a fast paced novel. Told through the eyes of colorful characters like Kesri Singh, Shireen Moddie, Captain Mee and Zachary Reid, Ghosh transports us to the life and times of the colonial era, centered on the annexation of Hong Kong and Macau by the British nearly two centuries ago.

The novel begins with an introduction to some of the main characters that initially feels a bit overwhelming and excessive. The novel is sprinkled with Hinglish and Hindustani as spoken by ‘Gora Sahib’ of the era, adding to the authenticity of the narrative.
After wading through the buildup, readers can experience the lives of the main characters who happen to come together from different parts of the globe - Zachary Reid from America who is out to explore the world, but finds himself transforming into a guileful businessman, Captain Mee from the British Army who harbors a dark secret, Kesri Singh, of East India company’s army, recruited from the Indian Hartland, who typifies brown soldier-for-hire of the era and Shireen Moddie, the widow of a prominent Parsee opium trader from Mumbai who migrates to China, who like fellow Chinese Parsees traders has a secret life that unravels after his death.

The lives of the main characters are intertwined in the ships - Ibis, Anahita and Hind - that are transporting a cargo of Opium while helping imperial British Army fight the Chinese. The characters and their travails highlight the futility and lack of moral justification for the Opium Wars.

While this is a novel about the politics of Opium, drugs and war two centuries ago, there are distinct parallels for those of us watching the news of contemporary history unfold: the “war on terror” in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan which is really about control of oil and energy.

(Cross posted from

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