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Book Watch by Travel Man: River of Smoke and Mao's Great Famine

Updated on July 18, 2011

Book Watch is playing inside the mind of this hubber since he started hubbing two years ago (September 2009). This series aims to feature books (fiction or non-fiction) that interest him.

River of Smoke (2011) is a novel by Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh. It is the second volume of what will be the Ibis trilogy. He was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 since the launching of the first book titled, Sea of Poppies.

There are lots of character to memorize:

  • Deeti, whose marriage was broken when she realized that her daughter is not the offspring of her crippled husband but of her brother-in-law ( a very dark scheme by her mother-in-law)
  • Kalua - the ox man from the other Indian village who rescued her; they became servants of the ship Ibis
  • Serang Ali - captain of the ship
  • Zachary Reid - an Afro-American sailor, second-in-command on the ship Ibis
  • Neel Rattan Halder - an Indian rajah, wrongly tried due to the Opium Trade collapse, sentenced to serve jail in the island of Mauritius
  • Ah Fatt - half-Chinese from Canton, half-Parsi; Neel's sole companion in prison, an opium addict
  • Benjamin Burnham - the opium trader who nailed Neel through a sham court proceedings
  • Paulette - a French-Indian orphan, who's the love interest of Zachary, fluent in Bengali
  • Jodu - childhood friend of Paulette who helped her embarked at the ship

First Book: Sea of Poppies

This Indian prolific writer, Amitav Ghosh, had written his first installment in English, with its setting at the banks of the holy river Ganges and in Calcutta.

Lives of people during the Pre-Opium Period in India were intertwined by the day-to-day transactions, from simple to complicated in Calcutta. The Ganges river served as the silent witness of what's going on in the lives of the protagonists in the story.


  1. The escape of the widow, Deeti from her mother in law
  2. The imprisonment of Rajah Neel Rattan Halder because of Mr. Burnham
  3. Kalua, the man from other village who helped her escape
  4. Paulette's escape from her aunt due to the latter's persistence to marry an eccentric elderly Justice Kendarbushe; on boarded Ibis through a disguise as Indian woman
  5. Zachary's leadership led the ship to Mauritius or Mareech

After the incidents on Ibis, which was caught in a storm and eventually ended up in Mauritius, but with a few passengers less, the story in this novel begins from where it left off. From the details of the changing lives and traditions of Indian migrants in Mauritius, the novel traces the fate of other characters from Ibis and describes the opium trade in China.

Mao's Great Famine

Mao book on disastrous Great Leap Forward policy of China won L20,000 BBC Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction (July 7, 2011). It was received by the stunned writer Frank Dikotter, a Dutch academician who reviewed the policy from 1958 until 1962 in his book, Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Devastating Catastrophe 1958-1962 that killed 45 million Chinese people.

With the archives as his source, Mr. Dikotter was able to reflect vibrantly on the effects of Mao Zedung's policy just to compete with the progress of the West even it caused millions of lives. The policy led to the transformation of mainland China, from agrarian into modern communist country.

The enforcement of rapid industrialization through forced labor or collectivization was based by Mao from The Theory of Productive Forces. The displacement of knowledge made disastrous effects that led to the great famine for millions of Chinese citizen due to grain shortage.

Mr. Dikotter was the second writer to win the coveted prize. The first was Barbara Demick in 2010 for her journalistic investigation Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

50 years after that disastrous period in China's history, Mao's successor continue to implement his policies, like the One-China Policy in rearing family that is rumored to violate human lives leading to infanticide or killings of innocent babies. Please check my hub: Baby Herbal Soup in China: A Hoax?


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    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @earthbound1974: You're welcome. It also takes a lot of funding to acquire new books that I can review and read. I often rely online for newly published eBooks these days.

    • earthbound1974 profile image


      7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I want to have the Ibis Trilogy. Can't wait to follow new books you'll feature in the future.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • travel_man1971 profile imageAUTHOR

      Ireno Alcala 

      7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @thesailor: Well, aside from writing, reading books is my pastime. It always bring me to other world where I imagine myself as one of the characters on it.

      Thanks for the hub-visit.

    • thesailor profile image


      7 years ago from Seven Seas

      Awesome books! I still prefer seafaring books with high tales of adventures from the seas. Well, Ibis trilogy is also about seafaring action. So, I may buy it at the nearest national book store.

      Thanks for sharing, travel man!


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