Of Disappearances and the Opium Trade @ Talking Terrace Book Club in May 2015 (Part 1)

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terrace(color)The first day of the month, a May Day, and Abhaya didn’t want to start. “I’ve always been the first name in the register, in my class, school and the entire state.”

So Jaya started with two interesting books.

River of Smoke is the second installment of the Ibis trilogy,”Ghosh’s research seems authentic and his descriptions are lovely to read. You can almost see Canton, the port where all the action happened.”

“However, it’s almost as if the author was forced into writing this book. While the first part had a definitive plot line and more delineated characters, this part fell short somewhere.I’m not excited about the last installment Flood of Fire.”

“Writing trilogies requires hubris,” Abhaya said, “Maybe that’s why I don’t write them.”


Since we were all ignorant of the backdrop to the Opium Wars in China, Jaya explained that goods in China were in great demand in the early nineteenth century.

“Jane Austen wanted a Chinese umbrella,I read somewhere,” said Abhaya.

It wasn’t just Jane Austen. There was an enormous demand for Chinese goods and the best trade-off seemed to be opium. There seem to be many parallels to the drug trade today.

It was the fictional aspect that didn’t work for Jaya. The multi-POV fell flat and the characters were almost sterile. “In the first part, the characters were sea bound to Mauritius. It was a time when the slave trade was being replaced by indentured labour, but in the second part there is no specific movement and I was confused about a character called Putli, later renamed as Puggli in Sea of Poppies to be nonchalantly called Puggli as though she had never been called Putli before.”

A lot lies in a name indeed. “Maybe it’s a SF opportunity for the third book-Puggli could have gone back in time and erased her name forever,” said Srishti. One tends to think like this while reading Terry Pratchett.

Another book that Jaya read is Wrong by David H.Freedman. She’s reviewed it at Worth a Read here. It’s a book that teaches you to be more alert and less gullible to expert chatter.

She then delved into a serious book. Anatomy of a Disappearance by Libyan writer, Hisham Matar. This sad story is about a boy called Nuri whose father has disappeared. Matar speaks of his country as just that—his country, without naming it.  His first book was listed for the Booker Prize and he carries over the same atmosphere and longing to know the truth of what happened to his father into his second book.

“Somehow assassination seems to be better than disappearance,” Abhaya said. He had read this book as well.

I can’t help bringing in Patrick Modiano’s book The Search Warrant at this point. It is an interruption to the usual order of things, but since it is about an author’s brutally honest account of his search for a missing girl, it seems fair to add it here.

Many children went missing during the war years in Europe. Dora Bruder is one such. The author is obsessed with this young girl- he has seen her photograph and he knows her name. Little by little, he pieces together the story of her mediocre family who lived in and out of hotels. He is not sentimental at all; this adds to the trauma of the experience of having disappeared. Extermination was systematic. Files were filled and people were indexed as though they were folders in a computer. A single folder deleted means nothing in this universe of excess.

Modiano writes about the streets he walked through. He searches for Dora Bruder and brings France and its geography alive. When you search, it is all that matters.

More of the books we discussed in Part 2.

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  1. Pingback: Of Birthdays and Mothers @ Talking Terrace Book Club—May, 2015 (Part 2) | InstaScribe

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