8 Things About Amitav Ghosh”s Ibis Trilogy That Will Keep You Coming Back To It

Posted on April 22, 2014 in Books, Lists

By Swati Nandy:

The Ibis Trilogy written by Amitav Ghosh consists of three books out of which only two have been published. The first one is the Sea of Poppies which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the second one is the River of Smoke which was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Sea of Poppies is set in Bengal on the eve of the Opium Wars while the River of Smoke continues the story and takes the action forward to the same opium’s destination, the Chinese trading outpost of Canton. Here’s all that is special about these books:

Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke

The marvellously etched character portrayal
Ghosh has created characters and portrayed each and every minute detail so accurately that it will leave behind a lingering sense of familiarity. Deeti, one of the protagonists, is described as one who draws figures and then keeps them in her temple. Having a husband who sits at home and smokes ‘afim’ she has to carry the responsibility of the family on her shoulders. Throughout the novel her thoughts, desires and aspirations have been penned down to each detail. This creates a clear picture of her in the reader’s mind.

Use of esoteric dialects
Throughout the novel you will come across words like Hobson-Jobson, Hinglish and Chinglish to name a few. It must have taken great research to use such dialects in appropriate places. Yet this technique is most effective. Although initially it becomes a bit difficult for the reader, as soon as you go deeper into the story, these give it the native touch and readers finds themselves transported to that era.

Descriptions in meticulous detail
Wherever Ghosh has mentioned any object, he has described it up to the last detail be it the ‘paan stains on the wall’ or ‘the deck of the Ibis’. The scene where Deeti goes to the opium factory and the organization of the coolie ship, has been described in such immense detail that the readers can almost feel and smell these places as if they had been there in their childhood days.

A woman’s courage
Deeti is married to an opium addict. On the night of her betrothal, she is impregnated by her brother-in-law and finds that out through hints thrown by him and her mother-in-law. And finally, when her husband dies she is supposed to die on his funeral pyre. Even after such fate, she had the courage to elope with an untouchable whom she hardly knows, in a society where even touching a lower caste is considered blasphemy.

Beautifully webbed link between the characters
Ghosh has united all his characters in the Ibis on their journey.. It symbolizes India as a world composed of human needs and desires, aspirations and betrayals. All the characters are historically, geographically, morally, and inextricably linked. In the India portrayed by Ghosh, every path circles back to its starting point.

Evenly written and engaging
The history of the Fanqui town in Canton has been fascinatingly written. It is portrayed as a mysterious civilization that has just begun to loathe the corruption among its people which is primarily due to opium. Readers will find themselves engrossed in this town.

The paradox between the rich and the poor
Ghosh has successfully portrayed this through Bahram Modi. He works as an independent businessman in the opium trade run by the East India Company. After the death of his father-in-law he stocks his entire life’s work into a final shipment of opium even after the Chinese government banned opium trade.

The third and final book is supposed to be named The Flood of Fire. It is slated to be released in 2015. Once you read these books, you won’t have the patience to wait for the final instalment. If you have read these books, tell us what intrigued you about this series or did you find the novels unnecessarily lengthy?