Top positive review
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Fascinating, rewarding book!
on 7 May 2011
I confess I was swithering whether to award 4 or 5 stars for this book, but had to come down in favour of 5. I loved Sea of Poppies and this book is even more densely told, packed with detail, and both the devil and the angel here are in the detail. The story is sprawling, and covers in detail the year or so following the events of Sea of Poppies (and I'm very glad I still had my copy of Sea of Poppies to refer to, especially at the beginning).
Not all the characters in the first book are followed in detail, some of the most important are hardly mentioned, though the first part involves Deeti and her family on the island of Mauritius. Instead we concentrate mainly on Neel, Paulette and her childhood playmate Edward (Robin) Chinnery, whose character comes alive in his letters to Paulette; the opium smuggling in Canton, the search for exotic plants, especially the golden camellia, largely in the nearly empty wastes of the island of Hong Kong and the fortunes of the Fami on the lush island of Mauritius.
Packed with detail, as I have said. I knew very little of the Opium trade and the fat cat British, American and assorted merchants of the Fanqui-town district of Canton who put profit before all else (so what else is new?), and I found it all fascinating, together with the intertwined story of the plants. The book exposes the hypocrisy of the times mercilessly, and does noone any favours.
The language is a rich mix of pidgin and the current venacular, and I found it easy and rewarding to follow. I had a slight quibble with names: as in Russian literature all the Asian characters answer to several names each and it isn't always easy to work out who is who, but that is a minor point and all becomes clear eventually.
One abiding image remains with me: in the womanless enclave of Fanqui-town balls are held and the spectacle of, among other male couples, Mr Jardine sedately dancing the waltz with Mr Wetmore is not easily banished from the mind.
All you could ask for is in this book. Great atmosphere and sense of place, splendid narrative, strong characters (especially Indian merchant Bahram Modi) both fictional and historical, violence, cupidity, stupidity, love of all kinds and the promise of more to come, I hope before too many more years have elapsed.