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Rarely has history been so compelling as in Amitav Ghosh’s new book Flood of Fire

Flood of FireFlood of Fire, the final part of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy is set between 1839 and 1841 and it would have been easy to have got the reader lost in the rich historical events that were unfolding during that period; the growing tensions between China and British-ruled India over the opium trade that eventually triggered war, the eventual seizure of Hong Kong and what Beijing saw as its humiliating defeat.

But Ghosh’s literary world is populated by such a gallery of diverse and vivid characters that it is they who capture the reader. Some will be remembered from his first two books, Sea of Poppies about opium production and River of Smoke about the opium ship Anahita travelling to Canton in China. However, while Flood of Fire provides continuity it is equally enthralling as a stand-alone book.

The story unfolds through the lives of three main characters: Zachary Reid,

Extraordinary story of the under-society of Mumbai in Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo


I had been intending to read Behind the Beautiful Forever’s by Katherine Boo for more than a year but somehow had never got around to it. As well as seeing several highly positive reviews of it I have heard Boo talk at a couple of literary festivals to a packed and rapt audience. Last week it finally moved to its rightful place at the top of the pile: It has been well worth the wait. Boo has delicately and seamlessly pieced together a narrative about the lives of people living in the squalid Annawadi makeshift settlement that exists in the shadows of luxury hotels near Mumbai’s new Sahar International Airport.

Boo is a highly acclaimed journalist who has won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The Washington Post. After marrying an Indian she became interested in telling the story of Annawadi, which is home to more than 3,300 of the poorest people on the earth. At the beginning, she was acutely aware of what she saw as the potential impediments to writing the non-fiction book; she wasn’t Indian, did not understand the language well; and was not steeped in the culture. In the end it was the journalistic challenge that led her to spend months at a time over several years in Annawadi overcoming the impediments by: Time spent in the community, attention to detail, sourcing thousands of public documents … and checking and re-checking until even the inhabitants “were bored with me.”

So intricate and complete is the story that it is frequently hard to believe that the Behind the Beautiful Forevers is not a novel, that the stories are true. Over successive visits to


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