3 new audiobooks whisk listeners around the globe

“Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories,” by Amitav Ghosh. MUST CREDIT: Recorded Books

‘Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories,’ by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh, whose Ibis trilogy covered the opium trade in the East, here gives us a brilliant, deeply researched account of the drug’s pivotal role in global history. Produced and traded through expropriation, forced labor and military might, opium helped build the British Empire, American trading power and the fortunes of many of the West’s most prominent families – all careful to obscure that distasteful reality. Meanwhile, the industry destroyed the lives of millions of Indians and Chinese through famine, war and addiction. Narrator Ranjit Madgavkar has the animated manner of a teller of incredible tales – and, truly, there is something fantastical in this account, not least in Ghosh’s conceit that the poppy itself was a player with its own agency. Still, the self-exculpatory, racist ideology of those who profited from the opium trade is itself frankly grotesque and Madgavkar’s voice takes on a fittingly sardonic note in describing it. This is a revelatory work possessing the tempo of a novel as it lays out critical – and much obfuscated – chapters in world history. (Recorded Books, unabridged, 12 hours and 34 minutes)

‘The Fox Wife,’ by Yangsze Choo

Set in Manchuria in the last days of the Qing dynasty, Choo’s enchanting third novel might be called a fairy tale given its uncanny elements; on the other hand, it is so rich in intricate plot, sense of place and character that it has the feel of reality. The book progresses as two intertwined stories: that of Snow, a white fox with a tart sense of humor who can take the form of a human being, a beautiful young woman with a numinous appeal; and of Bao, a freelance private detective in his 60s who nurses an old, undeclared love for a childhood playmate. Snow is intent on finding and killing the man who murdered her young daughter, while Bao’s investigations bring him, unwittingly, closer to his old flame. Choo narrates the book herself with a grace of voice and manner that is rare in authors. Further, she delivers Chinese names and phrases with the intonation of a native speaker, lending another level of authenticity to this odd and wonderful tale. (Macmillan, unabridged, 14 hours and 37 mins)

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‘The Road from Belhaven,’ by Margot Livesey

Orphaned and brought up by her grandparents on a farm in 19th-century Scotland, Lizzie Craig has visions of future calamities, though she cannot say when they will occur or whether they can be avoided. Although her premonitions help propel the plot, and one is pivotal, they are not the novel’s central preoccupation. That emerges when Lizzie falls in love with Louis, an apprentice tailor who visits the farm. She follows him to Glasgow thinking they will get married, but both Louis and fate deal her the sort of blows Thomas Hardy liked to dispense. Happily, Livesey is the more merciful author and chooses not to leave us bereft. The book is beautifully served by narrator Ell Potter, a true genius of accents. Here she affects a Scottish burr that further deepens our sense of a world that Livesey has described so vividly. Emotionally, too, Potter is warmly engaged with the characters, her voice urgent and passion-swept as Lizzie’s trials accumulate. (Random House, unabridged, 8 hours and 14 minutes)



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