River of Smoke

River of Smoke by Amitov Ghosh
2011 / 528 pages Audible – Sanjiv Jhaveri – 22h. 34m.
fiction – 2nd in series
rating – 9

Whew!   I just finished the second time – and I’m counting it twice.   I listened the first time (see below)  and never quite got interested until about an hour or two from the end.   And the reader was so horrible I couldn’t go through that again,  so I downloaded the ebook and read it that way.   I got so involved I did a little annotation project –  I loved it!   (SEE NOTES – there are 3 pages.)

Re the annotations – many,  many of the minor characters are historical.  The places and events are generally historical.  The artists and their works are mostly historical.   There were times I felt like the story line was really a vehicle for the history but parts of the story were quite good for their own sake.  And Ghosh’ very skillful use of language (English descriptions) is a delight to read.  The amount of “creole” (generically speaking) Ghosh uses is sometimes in excess and draws away from the story but I believe that language is a particular interest to him and so found the idea of “mongrel languages” (my phrase)   made  its way into the book as a theme.

Ghosh uses some interesting literary devices.  In one section a person is high on opium and starts telling a story.  The story is so real to the guest who is listening that the narrative turns into a first person from the pov of the listener – well done!

Ghosh uses cliff-hanger endings pretty well – they’re strung through the book as we follow three separate tales.    At the end of one little plot section he says, “Oh,  there’s someone at the door …” and the in next paragraph we’re in another plot thread having to read for about 60 pages before we can find out about the door.

Finally,   it’s a bit difficult to read about this conflict when the protagonists are mostly bad guys and you want the others to “win,”  but you really can’t want the protagonists to get hurt.   Ghosh is doing pretty well as an author for me to care about bad guys getting hurt – but he put you up close and inside them – he humanized the villains.


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