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Book Launch
Amitav Ghosh (right) launches River of Smoke with Andrew Phillips, the CEO of Penguin India, at Taj Bengal on Saturday evening. “Sea of Poppies was the fastest selling hardback, making River of Smoke the most eagerly awaited second book,” said Phillips

Calcutta was the chosen city of Amitav Ghosh for the India launch of River of Smoke, the second book in his Ibis trilogy, three years after the Booker-shortlisted Sea of Poppies made waves across the world.

“My mother lives here and this book is my gift to her on her 80th,” said the 54-year-old author, looking dapper in a charcoal-black jacket at Taj Bengal on Saturday evening.

Filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay and folk arts curator Nandita Palchoudhuri at the book launch

Calcutta is also central to the Ibis trilogy because the city was the locus of the opium trade and migration of indentured labourers in the early 19th century two themes on which the trilogy is based, said the Sahitya Akademi Award winner, before reading out excerpts from the new title, published by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Sidharth Pansari of Crossword bookstore greets Amitav Ghosh

Before the launch, the audience milled outside the Crystal Hall, sipping wine and nibbling on lamb-stuffed olives and melon wrapped in bacon. A counter displaying Amitav Ghosh books did brisk business, selling over 120 copies of River of Smoke and 40 copies of Sea of Poppies. “We sold 2,740 copies on the very first day River of Smoke became available (June 15),” said Sumit Basu, the distributor of Penguin India in the eastern region.

The excitement in the hall was palpable. “I’m halfway through the second book and will race home after the launch to read more,” said novelist Rimi B. Chatterjee. “Till now, it lives up to the promise,” she added.

The author’s mother Anjali Ghosh, to whom River of Smoke is dedicated. “My house is stuffed with books — it’s like a library on every floor!” she told t2

So, what are the challenges of writing a sequel, a member of the audience asked Ghosh. “I don’t think of it as a sequel, each book has its own mood, its own characters, much like The Alexandria Quartet,” replied the author.

“What is your favourite read, other than the Oxford English Dictionary?” asked another guest, referring to Ghosh’s interview with t2 (Mystic River, June 18). “Sir Walter Scott and Saradindu Bandyopadhyay,” came the reply.

“And when is the third book coming? Please don’t say three years!” implored a lady.

“I’m in no hurry. The pleasure is in the journey. I, in fact, try to stretch it as much as I can!” said Ghosh with a smile.

Nabaneeta Dev Sen, author

Amitav is a very dear friend. I read Sea of Poppies and loved it but whether my eyesight will permit me to read this book, I don’t know.... Amitav Ghosh has always been an extremely attractive reader. He chooses great excerpts and no matter how much he reads, you feel it is not enough. Also, most of the questions asked were very intelligent... all from people well-versed with his literature. As a writer, one always hopes for such an audience.

Chandrima Roy, geographic information system specialist

I live in Chicago and I’m here on vacation. I could not resist coming for the book release. I am a big Amitav Ghosh fan and have read all his books. My favourite is The Calcutta Chromosome. I love the way he portrays Calcutta in the book, its feel and smell. It makes me nostalgic. I also loved Sea of Poppies and can’t wait to read River of Smoke.

Poorva Sinhha, school student

I have not read Amitav Ghosh yet, but my dad insisted I attend this launch. And I am so impressed! Most people don’t get such an opportunity to meet and hear an author. My friends are so jealous! His reading of the excerpts made the book irresistible. I just bought Sea of Poppies and will then move on to River of Smoke.

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