It’s been a long time since I wrote something about anything. That’s mostly because I’m a lazy person but also because it’s been a long time since I read something. Almost 3 long months. However, Christmas came early this year, and I get to have the perfect vacation; lots of good food, lots of good books and nothing else to occupy my time. I’ve read three amazing novels so far: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami,Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh andCareer of Evil by Robert Galbraith(that’s JK Rowling’s pen name). I have one more book by Murakami, so I thought I’ll maybe write about them both once I’m done with it.
Career of Evil is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, who is a ex-SIB private detective with an unlikely past. This book is by far the grisliest one by her and very unsettling at places. I’m usually not a fan of murder mysteries, especially ones with scary psychopaths, but this one more than made up for it with the tight narration and the chemistry between Strike and his assistant, Robin Elacott. But then again it’s JKR, I can’t really say much except squeal like a fan girl and declare my eternal and undying love for her and her characters.
Flood of Fire is a book I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for a really long time now. And it was well worth the wait. It’s the final book in the Ibis trilogy set mostly in and around China just before the start of the first opium war. The trilogy weaves through the lives of various characters; Indian, English, American, half-Chinese to give us a very comprehensive portrayal of life in those times. It touches on many topics including modernisation, sovereignty, globalisation, business, war, the cost of war, love and even caste and class at various points. I loved the book. It is everything I expect a good book to be. It has a great setting, very neat characterization and plot, and at the end it gives you that wonderful sense of satisfaction. That magical feeling not much different from the one you have after returning from a very beautiful place you visited. But what makes the book truly magnificent is how it interleaves fact and fiction, how it captures the spirit of those times and paints a near perfect picture of the general situation there. You could see the amount of meticulous and painstaking research that has gone into the book. And most importantly, it makes you care. Care for all the little cogs in the giant machinery of globalisation.
Before I started the book, I hadn’t even heard about the opium wars. Which seems fair, after all, countless wars have happened over time, and we can barely remember the ones that involve our country. And why would people fight for opium of all things? Sounds as stupid as grown men fighting over candy. Turns out, it was grown men fighting to sell candy. In a nutshell, Britain was spending loads of money buying tea, silk and so on from china, while china was largely a self sufficient country. In an effort to get some of the silver back, they started smuggling opium that was grown in India into China illegally. Initially, the government didn’t seem to mind because, well, most of them were greedy people who had a lot of bribes coming their way. But as the number of addicts rose, China tried to put an abrupt end to the trade. When negotiations failed, Britain launched an attack in the name of promoting free trade and globalisation. China, failing to recognise the strength of the British military, refused to concede to their demands and prolonged the conflict as a result of which, the war, which started in 1839 went on till 1842, during which time the British took hold of Hong Kong among other places and turned it into the business centre it is today. And it turns out, India had a lot to do with this war. In addition to being the source of all the opium, a number of Indian merchants had stakes in the war, and a good amount of the actual fighting was done by the Indian sepoys employed by the East India Company. The books does a wonderful job at presenting this scenario from different viewpoints on both sides of the fence and from a few caught up unwillingly. Even more interestingly, this book throws light on the faults in our system. It shows why we were so easily ruled by outsiders who understood our caste and religious divides and exploited them to their advantage. All the rajahs and nawabs were blind to everything but their own immediate gains thanks to the friendly Englishman, until we all got screwed over, including the rajahs and nawabs.
Of course, there is a lot more that goes on in the book than history lessons, but that is the only aspect I’ve mentioned here. There’s more drama in the books than in a whole collection of Bollywood movies. The evil in-laws, the star crossed lovers, the illicit affair, the oppressed guy rising against his oppressor, you name it, you have it. So if you’ve managed to stay awake through this mini lesson, I highly recommend you pick up Sea of Poppies which is the first book in the trilogy.
P.S A big thank you to those who got me the books as a birthday present! (There, I said it)