Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh

Master storyteller Amitav Ghosh gives goosebumps through the magnificent “Ibis Trilogy“. This work of historical fiction is a set of three books – “Sea of Poppies“, “River of Smoke” and “Flood of Fire“. These crispy and succulent books have brought 19th century alive vividly reflecting the scenario of Opium War between The Great Britain [The East India Company] and China [The Maha-Chin]. Ibis is a vast ship with which fate of many characters is tied in the story.

This rich-in-story trilogy is a journey from Calcutta to Mauritius to Canton to Hong-Kong, back and forth in between which Ghosh introduces myriad characters, each with their peculiar stories to share. Every anecdote is riveting. By the time readers turn the last page, they have already lived a hundred lives and experienced countless experiences. Ghosh’s way of story-telling is enchanting. As I was reading, I wanted to close the book, absorb the stories and smell the pages every once in a while. This is the kind of story which stays with you for days and months and years even after you have finished reading it. 

First book of the Ibis Trilogy: “Sea of Poppies”


The story emerges from a small village Ghazipur of Uttar Pradesh, India. The different characters are dispersed at the beginning only to get connected later at the end. As the story culminates, the ship Ibis ties together the fate of –

  • a widow who is separated from her only daughter,
  • a bankrupt jamindar (land owner) who is rich and respectable one moment and is nothing but a Kaidi (prisoner) the next moment, 
  • an orphan European girl who has learnt to take care of herself gracefully over time,
  • a mulatto American freedman who has been extremely fortunate, and
  • a group of lascars with really amazing dialect (which fascinated me and I could not miss them out in this list). 

~ Once they are a part of the Ibis, they become Jahaj Bhai (Ship brothers) and Jahaj Behen (Ship sisters).~

This bond is precious and can never be broken. They realize it as they move on with time and meet at different point of life in the most unexpected circumstances. 

Second book of the Ibis Trilogy: “River of Smoke”


The Second book of the Ibis Trilogy begins with the characters from the First book who have grown old. They narrate the story of their struggle to their children in the first few couple chapters. If you anticipate the entire book to be merely the narration from the perspective of parents or grandparents to their children, then you are going to be disappointed because Ghosh switched the narration to third person narrative after few chapters.

In this book, all the members of The Ibis are dispersed trying to claim their own fortunes. The majority of the story takes place in Canton, China. The three opium shipping ships – The Ibis, The Redruth and The Anahita, directed towards Canton gets caught up in the tempest. All the acts of the owners thereafter is aimed at recovering their loss. But all they get is – more troublesome legal issues. 

Third book of the Ibis Trilogy: “Flood of Fire”


The last book of The Ibis Trilogy brings together all the characters insinuating that the bond of Jahaj Bhai and Jahaj Behen is precious and cannot be broken.

As the story unfolds, the loss of opium as well as other legal and political wranglings gives way to war. The East India Company is all set to wage war against Beijing. However, Chinese do not have the resource to stand against the modern British warfare. Hence, the plight of the debilitated party seems apparent. 

Ibis Trilogy is an enormous chronicle that has incorporated every subtle details of the 19th century culture and tradition. All the small fragments Ghosh had been knitting throughout the story has at last fallen into place giving a clear picturesque of the then social and political scenario. Once you start reading the book, it is unputdownable. 

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