Both books are set around the opium trade and its impact on the people whose livelihoods depend on it in India and China respectively. Sea of Poppies is set on the banks of the Ganges and in Calcutta. The lives of its characters merge as they become united by sharing their fate on board the schooner the Ibis. River of Smoke picks up where Sea of Poppies left off and is then mainly set in China in the build up to the first Opium War. I found it absolutely fascinating having known nothing about the opium wars before reading it. I’m looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.
I’ve also read The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh published in 2005, which is set in the fascinating region of the Sundarbans in India. I have always been amazed by mangrove forests and have loved admiring them at first hand in northern Queensland in Australia and in Thailand. This captivating book brings to life what everyday existence in a region like this is like. It cleverly intertwines the story of the people and the strange natural environment in which they live.
I first came across the author when I read The Glass Palace, which is one of my all-time favourite books. I keep wanting to re-read it but am saving it for the right moment, hopefully before visiting Malaysia where it is set before not too long. It so made me want to visit Malaysia that I got as far as buying the guide books a couple of years ago, having first read up on the country’s history (the details of which I promptly then forgot). If you want to try Amitav Ghosh, then I urge you to start with this one – it’s truly excellent.