the Opium Clerk by Kunal Basu (2001)

Hiran is born in 1857, the same year as his father dies, and his mother moves them to Calcutta. There, he spends his early years reading palms and attending a religious school, while learning culture from his anglophile uncle. When he is kicked out of the religious school, he starts learning English at the mission school until his mother can’t afford his eduction. Then, by luck, he gets a job at the Auction House as a clerk. The Auction House deals with opium, and Hiran quickly learns a lot about the trade. His boss, Mr. Crabbe, takes a liking to him, and Hiran will join him in Canton.

I have been enjoying this book, reading a few pages in bed slowly before falling asleep. The language is beautiful. Hiran’s tale is wonderful, but left me somewhat confused at times – when real life and dreams mixed.

My favourite part, however, didn’t involve Hiran at all, but his adopted son, Douglas. At one point he takes over the story and Hiran is left behind. The shift is so abrupt that it could have been a new book, although it still deals with the opium trade.

This is one of those books that I really wish was great, but then lacks something. And I never quite seem to get those books that mix real life and dreams.

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