Flood of fire (2015) is the third book in the Ibis trilogy, written by Amitav Ghosh. The series finds its premise in the first opium war fought between England and China in which India became a party forcibly and involuntarily. The third book takes the story forward. Sea of poppies covers the stories from India, River of smoke sets the stage of opium war and third book, flood of fire actually becomes a witness to the war. The name of the book is derived from the heavy bombardment from the British navy’s ships on the Chinese vessels and forts in the first salvo of the Opium Wars.
About the author
Amitav Ghosh is one of the most acclaimed Indian authors who has been writing for the last three decades. He was recently conferred Gyanpeeth Award and became the first English author to win the award. Earlier his books have been nominated for the Man Booker Prize and he has won many prestigious awards. His major works include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, and The Ibis Trilogy, consisting of Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke and Flood of Fire. His most recent book, The Great Derangement; Climate Change and the Unthinkable, a work of non-fiction, appeared in 2016.
This book is of interest for
- History enthusiasts
- International relations enthusiasts
- Readers interested in Sino-Indian relations
Premise of the book
The second book, River of Smoke ended on a prophecy of a war and of a huge monetary loss that would be incurred by the opium traders. Follow the story here. The third opens with a new character, Havildar Kesri Singh who is Deeti’s brother. I have noticed a pattern in all three books of Amitav Ghosh, they have all opened with the story of Deeti which shows his love for the character. Kesari’s fate is written by Deeti which is evident from her role in Kesari’s inclusion in the army of East India Company and the time when Kalua, Deeti’s husband saves his life in war. He is accompanied by a new character, Captain Neville Mee, who is also the first love of Mrs. Burnham.
Zachary Reid, the second mate from the Ibis has been acquitted from all the charges against him and he finds a place in Burnham mansion, Bethel. Thereafter follows an adulterous relationship between Zachary and Mrs Burnham which is elaborately discussed by Ghosh. It seemed quite redundant to me in the starting but it started making sense as the story progressed.
‘But you too were a girl once, Mrs Burham-were you never in love then?’
She spoke again in a tremulous whisper ‘Yes, I was in love once.’
‘Tell me about it’
This is how Zachary comes to know about the romantic relationship between Mrs Burnham and Captain Mee.
Zachary starts dreaming of becoming a businessman and he starts twisting arms of Mrs Burnham and Captain Mee to achieve his ends. Mrs Burnham dies a death as her ship, Anahita capsizes. Captain Mee kills himself shortly.
Bahram Moodie falls off the deck of Anahita and dies. His news is not well received in Bombay as he had died with financial burden. His wife, Shireen Bai takes the decision of sailing to China on her own to pay gratitude to Bahram, claim the dividends of Bahram’s reparation and to meet the illegitimate child of Bahram, Ah Fatt.
But what about me? Shireen said, blurting out the first words that came to her mind: What if I were to go myself?
Her brothers stared at her, aghast. You?
You? Go to China? You’ve never even stepped out on the stepped out on the street by yourself!
In a strange turn of events, Shireen Bai falls in love with Zadig Bey, friend of Bahram and chooses to marry him. Towards the end of the book, Ah Fatt is killed and is buried next to Bahram.
Neel’s son, Raj Rattan Halder follows him to Canton and gets to meet his father only towards the end of the book. Meanwhile, Neel assists Zhang Lou-si and Commissioner Lin to know more about England and their trade. After his help, he notices the weakness of Chinese.
They have an instinctive distrust of spoken reports; they place far greater reliance on written documents. When they hear something new, they are reluctant to give it credence unless they can reconcile it with everything they have learnt from older books.
Neel’s life has been taking quite a number of twists and turns as Compton’s press has been closed and Bahram has died. Neel is virtually unemployed and homeless so he chooses to live in a monastery and work in Cambridge, the fighter vessel from the Chinese side and he is accompanied by Jodu.
Paulette has been in Hong Kong with Redruth, where she establishes a nursery and tenders the plants. She is heartbroken by the letter of Zachary in which he expresses his anger over facts which were twisted by Mrs Burnham.
The fates of the characters coincide frequently where everybody plays an elemental role in other’s life. The war has been excellently and eloquently described by Ghosh. The book rather ended abruptly without giving a way forward for I expect there would be another book, as was the case with former books. I have read the trilogy in one stretch and I cannot imagine the amount of thrill readers would have experienced who read these books as they were released. Perhaps that is why I found the introduction of this book too redundant and it was mostly about introducing characters from the former books.
Of all the three books in the trilogy, I liked River of Smoke the most. I look forward to reading Amitav Ghosh again in future and on an ending note,
“It is by worrying about adversity that people survive; complacency brings catastrophe.”