Smoke and Ashes

Opium's Hidden Histories

by Chandra Sundeep
Cover picture of Smoke and Ashes by Amitav Ghosh

Decades ago, when I started working, one of the sweet splurges from my first salary was Amitav Ghosh’s masterpiece, Glass Palace. An excellent decision, I would say, as it marked the beginning of a literary love affair! I went on to read Sea of Poppies, The Hungry Tide, and The Calcutta Chromosome and each time I read Ghosh’s works I was more and more enamoured by his writing prowess. My current read, “Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories,” reminded me why I hold this author in such high regard. The audiobook, skilfully narrated by Ranjit Madgavkar, is a treat to the senses.

The finely woven tapestry, “Smoke and Ashes” is the culmination of Ghosh’s intense research as part of the Ibis Trilogy. It transports readers to a bygone era when India was under British colonial rule. Ghosh examines the role the poppy plant played in shaping history, and how its effect was felt across India, China, Britain, and America.

I was intrigued by the chapters on the history and evolution of tea, forced cultivation of Opium and the role of Bihar in the opium trade, the reasons behind the Purvanchal regions’ impoverishment, George Orwell’s childhood, tough resistance put up by Maratha warriors and its role in shaping Bombay as a cosmopolitan city, the evolution of Parsis as a formidable trading community, establishment of various banks and universities, the Canton graduates. Oh, I could go on and on!

This well-researched and in-depth piece of work is deeply candid and insightful and reveals various facets of colonialism, opium smuggling, poppy wars, capitalism, trade monopoly, and the attitude of the white men towards the “barbarians.” He quotes not just the works of many colonial historians and administrators, but even those of the latest eras.

Ghosh seamlessly connects the threads of opium’s historical significance to the fabric of today’s free-market economies, the rise of consumerism and capitalism, America’s opioid epidemic, and the intricate dynamics of the pharmaceutical industry, among other things.

Readers fond of non-fiction, historical tales, and the captivating narratives of colonial eras, will enjoy immersing themselves in the enchanting world within these pages. This is more than just a book; it’s a personal odyssey through time.

“Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories” is a captivating journey through time and history that left me enthralled. It’s an absolute gem that I wholeheartedly recommend diving into!

I received an ARC from NetGalley and RB Media. This review reflects my honest and voluntary opinion.

This post is my selection for reading a book that celebrates the voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), as part of the READING WITH MUFFY- THE 2024 READING CHALLENGE

Wordsopedia Rating 5/5


Title: Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: RB Media Publication date: 13 Feb 2024
Genre: Non-Fiction—History Format: Audiobook
ISIN: B0CDCQZLB3 No. of Hours: 12 hours 34 minutes

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About the author

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique LandDancing in CambodiaThe Calcutta ChromosomeThe Glass PalaceThe Hungry Tide, and The Ibis Trilogy, consisting of Sea of PoppiesRiver of Smoke and Flood of Fire. His most recent book, The Great Derangement; Climate Change and the Unthinkable, a work of non-fiction, appeared in 2016.

Get in touch with the author on his website.

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