Along with writers as diverse as Somerset Maugham, Catherine Cookson and Jeffrey Archer, Amitav Ghosh possesses the one attribute essential to any novelist in search of popular success: he is a born storyteller. With a plot spanning the lives of three generations, and set against a succession of cataclysmic events in India, Burma and Malaysia over the past century, this is a book that repeatedly strains the reader’s credulity with its clumsy coincidences and its no less clumsy dependence on so many of its characters’ instantly falling in love with each other. But never for a moment is the reader not propelled irresistibly forward to discover what happens next.
The narrative sets off on its long, serpentine journey in the year 1885. A seemingly trivial dispute, between the independent kingdom of Burma and a British timber company over duties to be paid on the logging of teak, triggers a British invasion. Caught up in this event are two young