Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “opium”

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #12: River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

This was meant to be a well thought-out, clever review that was going to earn me several publications and eternal fame, but instead can I just say that I am officially in love with Amitav Ghosh, who is now my hero, ideal dinner guest and travel companion of my wildest dreams. I love him. In a good way though, the one which makes me want to be more like him. I’m rambling, aren’t I?

Amitav Ghosh has taken his time to write the second part of the Ibis trilogy, but although I had long forgotten what the first part was all about, it was worth the long wait. Picking up the many strings of the narration that led a colourful cast of characters to weather a storm on the Ibis on her way across the Indian Ocean, Ghosh quickly sends them off into different directions again. While some stay behind in their new home on Mauritius, Neel and Ah Fatt make their way to Canton, in search of Ah Fatt’s father, Bahram Modi, a Parsi opium trader. His story is told against the backdrop of the unfolding Opium Wars between China and Britain, although by the end of the novel, war has not yet broken out. Instead, the reader gets a taste of what life was like in Canton, the only Chinese place that allowed foreign traders to live and work in the 1830s. As in Sea of Poppies before, Ghosh is a master of evocation. He manages to include even the tiniest detail in his descriptions of the time and place of the story.

And what a story it is – dealing with botany, opium, Chinese politics, painting and family histories, all across pretty much every culture that played a part in the history of 19th century Asia. What amazed me was that although I was constantly bombarded with facts I never once got bored of them. Ghosh makes the place come to life, every detail adds another layer to the story, and yet you can never get enough of it.

For me, being the nerd I am, those parts that dealt with language stood out. Again, as in Sea of Poppies, the entire text is one big example for the multi-cultured setting of the story. Like the boatmen on the Ibis, the traders and locals in Canton use a certain form of pidgin to communicate and not get lost in the multitude of languages spoken. This is a joy to read, although it can border on hard work, given that Amitav Ghosh takes his pidgin seriously. Sometimes you have to skim and try to get the gist, which is probably as close to the real situation as you can get. In this novel, Neel acts as the character who tries to get on top of the language confusion and plans to tame it by planning a dictionary. On his webpage, Ghosh goes as far as to publish the framework of this dictionary. What a man. (Really. Hmmm.)
River of Smoke is one of the rare books that promise a lot and deliver even more. It’s a wonderful, exciting story full of amazing characters and heaps of information. It will be a few more years until we can finish the trilogy, and until then, I would very much like to sit in Amitav Ghosh’s study and see that nothing happens to the man while he writes. Or is that too creepy?

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #69: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Well, here I am again, after having succumbed to the lure of Norwegian crime writer Joe Nesbo and read another of his books after vowing not to after the last. And it’s not that his thrillers aren’t terrifying. They are. And I do enjoy Nesbo’s protagonist Detective Harry Hole. Hole gives us the standard noir mix of lone wolf and hero complex that stamps some of the best characters in the genre, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and yet Hole’s unsustainable love relationships, his alcohol and drug dependency, and ever present suicidal leaning—gives him that uniquely angsty European flavor so familiar to readers of the Stieg Larsson trilogy and so tiresome when it is unrelieved by change.

When I had finished wading through the excessive layers of The Leopard’s plot, complicated by the tangle of Norwegian names and places which Nesbo rather liberally sprinkles his pages with, I once again had that unfortunate feeling of relief that the lengthy novel was finally finished.

The Leopard is the story of a murderer whose identity is up for grabs throughout the bulk of the novel, but when it is finally revealed, it somehow comes as no surprise whatsoever. He knocks off one victim after another in a variety of graphically gruesome ways, and they all turn out to have been random visitors to a ski cabin during an apparently fateful encounter to which they may or may not have been witness. At the beginning of the novel, Harry Hole has fled Norway and is living as an opium addict in Hong Kong while hiding from the Triad which holds his drug debts. He is rescued and whisked back to Norway by a pretty young detective, to help find this newest serial killer and say goodbye to the dying father he has never made his peace with. Hole finds himself in the midst of a battle over who gets to control Oslo’s crime-fighting resources, and he races to find the serial killer before the charismatic but immoral cop Bellman does and uses the victory to leverage himself into power. Add in the saga of his father’s slow death,  his affair with the young detective, various men with lisps and missing digits, and the overly-detailed family histories of many characters Hole meets along the way, and the story begins to clog up.

Nesbo has a fascinating way of switching viewpoints, so that one moment you’re in the mind of a victim just before his or her murder, the next you’re in the mind of the killer, while all the while following Hole down the rabbit hole. (Sorry!) In fact, Nesbo’s hero suffers more near-death experiences than I thought it possible to fit in a single novel, but unsurprisingly, fantastically, manages to survive each and every one. The story flits back and forth between a snowy Norway and a steamy Congo—both portrayed in rather stereotypical ways, I thought–and is stuffed with enough violence to make even this veteran thriller reader gag. The end, when it comes, is worthy of a Hollywood action thriller but not of a well-written crime thriller.

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