River of Smoke


Author: Amitav Ghosh

Year of Publication: 2011


The novel is a journey of growing trade and relationships through a sea route where everything is as open and clear as it can be close and dense.

The novel is a narration in English along with snippets in pidgin and a broken form of language which makes the reader feel as if he is watching the story unfold and not just reading it. The creative imagination expands and makes one curious with each turn of the page.


The author has explored the character of a Parsi Businessman through Baharam Moddie who creates a world for himself separate from the world he is expected to live in. Taking a voyage to explore trade opportunities he finds solace in a land which has become a place of risk wanderers making money and cultivating relationships.

Travel in the novel is not just a mode of recreation but a meaningful journey whose real essence comes out when the real purpose is revealed.

What is it that continues the trade?

Is it Chinese land’s fertility or having a space where the guild has created its own rules away from the worldly world and still of the worldly world?

The novel explores narrations as is Ghosh’s style of writing, and gives readers multiple plots which merges together to create a painting which is fuller in parts then when put together.


‘River of Smoke’ mentions ‘opium’ a number of times which is the supposed good that is being traded between the countries and is making people go in a dreamy state of addictiveness and is gradually spoiling and ruining the generation and generations to come.

The symbolism of ‘opium’ as per me is open to interpretation. No one can question the real meaning of it, even the author himself, even if he chose to use it in its real meaning.

As a reader, I understood ‘opium’ metaphorically more than figuratively and found it to be a “passionate tool”, “a glue”, “a source” which has made lives of many going.


The novel is certainly about power and its politics. But it is also about emotional relationships within, which gets sacrificed in order to satisfy personal egos for public representation. There is a continued inner struggle, battling to match the outer one.

What is beautiful is to see is how a human being finds a home away from home and when he does, he sees that there are so many others who feel a distant land is more home.

The form of elements changes whether it is about trade of goods or about depiction of life. Paintings form an important element and reflect the real canvas which has been put in contrast to the imaginary lives people are living.

The book is a delight as it offers global perspectives and concerns and makes the reader a fellow traveller on the ship.


“We must be the willow, not the oak, in the lowering storm.”