River of Smoke – NOTES- 1

NOTES 2                   NOTES 3

General links: British trade and Canton

Dwarkanath Tagore   Bengali industrialist and opium trader in China

The Opium Trade and Wars  – an impressive MIT site –

Opium Trade   (great drawings, photos and map – opium production and use in India and China ca. 1839.)

Excellent review from the India Institute of Public Administration – 

BBC Asia review – kind of different

Long, strange trip: River of Smoke finds globalization’s roots in the Opium Wars – exceptional review / commentary

I really wasn’t too sure about this book so I listened to it.  I could NOT pay attention properly for several reasons but at the end it suddenly picked up for about an hour and I realized that the book had some very interesting things to say – mostly historical.   So I was going to listen again but one of my problems was the narrator’s voice which I had only finally begun to tolerate in that last hour or so.  Anyway,  I tried the sample Kindle and it was very nice so I got the whole thing.   (I’ve done this with two books recently – 1Q84 and now River of Smoke.  But I read and listened to 1Q84 simultaneously or going back and forth –  With River of Smoke it’s two completely separate readings –  This one counts as another book for the year but 1Q84 counted for one book.)

Bottom line:  here I am rereading the book and these are my notes.

CHARACTERS – (from Wikipedia)

Bahram Modi – Parsi Merchant from Bombay and father of Ah Fat

Shireenbai Mistry –  Bahram’s wife in Bombay

Chi Mei – A Cantonese Boat woman who is the lover of Bahram Modi

Ah Fat – Son of Bahram Modi and Chi Mei

Neel – Munshi of Bahram Modi  (Ah Fat’s jail companion in Sea of Poppies – later author of “glossary.”)

Vico – Bahram Modi’s Purser

Zadig Bey – Armenian Watch maker and friend of Bahram Modi

Fitcher Penrose – A Scottish Botanist on an expedition to collect rare plants in China

Paulette  (Pugli) Lambert – Daughter of a French Botanist who accompanies Mr. Fitcher on his expedition. (Sea of Poppies)

Robert Chinnery – Artist, Paulette’s friend and son of George Chinnery

Commissioner Lin – The Incorruptible Chinese Manadarin who is appointed by the Emperor of China to put an end to opium trading.


The book opens re the personal/family shrine of Deeti (from Sea of Poppies) situated off the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.  This is generally where we last saw the characters from The Sea of Poppies. Deetie was originally from “Back There,”   the small town of  Nayanpur in  Bengladesh.

The language – a huge reason for my getting the rather expensive Kindle version – was researched and highly developed by Ghosh –  I wanted to SEE the language – to ponder it.

The Glossary for Sea of Poppies

The food sounds delightful.

From page  10 – Kindle version

Back in the days of slavery the Morne’s inaccessibility
had made it an attractive place of refuge for escaped slaves,
who had settled there in considerable numbers. This community 
of fugitives – or marrons as they were known in Kreol – had 
lasted until shortly after 1834, when slavery was outlawed 
in Mauritius.  Unaware of the change, the marrons had cont-
inured to live their accustomed lives on the Morne – until 
the day when a column of troops appeared on the horizon and 
was seen to be marching towards them. That the soldiers might 
be messengers of freedom  was beyond imagining – mistaking 
them for a raiding party, the  marrons had flung themselves 
off the cliffs, plunging to their  deaths on the rocks below.

British rule in Mauritius

Pamplemousses Garden

The novel’s destination is the legendary Fanqui-town,

fwiw,  the book spells it “Fanqui-town.”  And now I wonder where the old hippie and mo-town  word “funky” came from!


Semantic roots in the Kikongo word “lu-fuki”, which means “bad body odor”  ???



Ghosh’s site with lots of photos

The Fan-qui in China in 1836_7

(a Google-book by Charles Toogood Downing published in 1838)

Much of this book is just as I suspected, back-ground heavy on the characters.   It would seem that Ghosh can’t introduce a character without a full description of his life to that point.   The book seems to jump from past to present very quickly and each chapter contains at least three elements – points of view – sections of  the story –  no wonder the audio was a bit confusing.

1/24 –  9:45 –  page 86

This is not going as fast as I wanted because it’s so darned interesting.  I’ve only got  one more book I really have to read before the 1st (8 days) and I have family business to take care of in the meantime.  Oh well – this is a fine book!

page 97 –  William Kerr  (probably a fascinating story – he likely became addicted to opium and died.  Ghosh doesn’t get into this but it’s an interesting side-note.)


Life is going on for Ah-Fat and Neel

The book has a lot of really unnecessary stuff in it –  Chinnery’s background,  Napoleon at St. Helena,  Zoroastrianism although all of this was kind of interesting – and with the Persion/Indian Parsi Zoroastrianism I suppose Ghosh is keeping to his theme of mongrel linguistics.


page  174 –
“From end to end the enclave is only about a thousand feet in length, less than a quarter of a mile, and in width it is about half that.”

Fan-qui town is about the size of a good swap meet or street fair!

p 232 –  Lam Qua
Guan Zolin (Spoilum)

p 238 –  Co-Hong Guild
Lin Zexu 

James Innes – very real person – in lots of Google books on Opium wars

251 Russell & Company of Boston

252 – ghost people – (click on the middle picture for a great view of Canton Fanqui-town)

pg 254 –

Neel could already see the cover: it would feature a
richly caparisoned mandarin. As for the title, that
too had already come to him. He would call it: The
Celestial Chrestomathy, Comprising a Complete
Guide to and Glossary of the Language of Commerce
in Southern China.

p. 264

Mr Wu Ping-ch’ien  portrait by George Chinnery – 1830

Hong Merchant litigation: 

p.  265   Honam Island   (incredible site – MIT)

p. 268 “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall”  recipe

p. 272  Billy Kerr

Great research on Kerr – I’ll bet there’s a journal or diary somewhere – !

Kerr had been in China a couple of years already
when Fitcher met him for the first time, in Canton, 
in the winter of 1806. He  was in his mid-twenties 
then, a little younger than Fitcher: at all, strapping 





MIT page on Visualizing  Cultures:



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