Popular rhetoric of the twenty-first century as the “Asian century” frequently coheres around China as a rising global superpower and thus focuses on its financial and material ambitions in sites across Asia and Africa. Such narratives, ensconced within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) formation, re-entrench a problematic Orientalism while pushing further to the margins still the complex, long-standing regional histories. This essay juxtaposes Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and Kevin Kwan’s Rich trilogy in relation to Indian Ocean histories of trade and exchange. Through world-historical events activated in these novels such as World War II and the first Anglo-Opium War, the essay’s argument follows nineteenth- and twentieth-century transits between the South Asian subcontinent, the Malay Archipelago, and China. Taking circularity as a central analytic, this essay reveals how an elongated temporal frame that accounts from non-European vantages—even in contemporary Anglophone literature—reorients not only what we consider the past and present of Indian Ocean worlds, but also how those pasts bear on the contemporary.

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