Smoke and Ashes: Opium's Hidden Histories
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2024 by Foreign Policy, Literary Hub, and The Millions
Ghosh unravels the impact of the opium trade on global history and in his own family―the climax of a yearslong project.
When Amitav Ghosh began the research for his monumental cycle of novels the Ibis Trilogy, he was startled to learn how the lives of the nineteenth-century sailors and soldiers he wrote about were dictated not only by the currents of the Indian Ocean but also by the precious commodity carried in enormous quantities on those currents: opium. Most surprising of all, however, was the discovery that his own identity and family history were swept up in the story.
Smoke and Ashes is at once a travelogue, a memoir, and an essay in history, drawing on decades of archival research. In it, Ghosh traces the transformative effect the opium trade had on Britain, India, and China, as well as the world at large. The trade was engineered by the British Empire, which exported Indian opium to sell to China to redress their great trade imbalance, and its revenues were essential to the empire’s financial survival. Following the profits further, Ghosh finds opium central to the origins of some of the world’s biggest corporations, of America’s most powerful families and prestigious institutions (from the Astors and Coolidges to the Ivy League), and of contemporary globalism itself.
Moving deftly between horticultural history, the mythologies of capitalism, and the social and cultural repercussions of colonialism, in Smoke and Ashes Ghosh reveals the role that one small plant has had in making our world, now teetering on the edge of catastrophe.
Amitav Ghosh is the author of the bestselling Ibis Trilogy, composed of Sea of Poppies (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire. His other novels include The Circle of Reason, which won the Prix Médicis étranger, and The Glass Palace. He is the author of many works of nonfiction, including The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. He has received two lifetime achievement awards and five honorary doctorates. In 2018, Ghosh became the first English-language writer to win the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.