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Opium Fiend
Cover of Opium Fiend
Opium Fiend
A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A renowned authority on the secret world of opium recounts his descent into ruinous obsession with one of the world's oldest and most seductive drugs, in this harrowing memoir of addiction and recovery.

A natural-born collector with a nose for exotic adventure, San Diego--born Steven Martin followed his bliss to Southeast Asia, where he found work as a freelance journalist. While researching an article about the vanishing culture of opium smoking, he was inspired to begin collecting rare nineteenth-century opium-smoking equipment. Over time, he amassed a valuable assortment of exquisite pipes, antique lamps, and other opium-related accessories--and began putting it all to use by smoking an extremely potent form of the drug called chandu. But what started out as recreational use grew into a thirty-pipe-a-day habit that consumed Martin's every waking hour, left him incapable of work, and exacted a frightful physical and financial toll. In passages that will send a chill up the spine of anyone who has ever lived in the shadow of substance abuse, Martin chronicles his efforts to control and then conquer his addiction--from quitting cold turkey to taking "the cure" at a Buddhist monastery in the Thai countryside.

At once a powerful personal story and a fascinating historical survey, Opium Fiend brims with anecdotes and lore surrounding the drug that some have called the methamphetamine of the nineteenth-century. It recalls the heyday of opium smoking in the United States and Europe and takes us inside the befogged opium dens of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The drug's beguiling effects are described in vivid detail--as are the excruciating pains of withdrawal--and there are intoxicating tales of pipes shared with an eclectic collection of opium aficionados, from Dutch dilettantes to hard-core addicts to world-weary foreign correspondents.

A compelling tale of one man's transformation from respected scholar to hapless drug slave, Opium Fiend puts us under opium's spell alongside its protagonist, allowing contemporary readers to experience anew the insidious allure of a diabolical vice that the world has all but forgotten.

From the Hardcover edition.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A renowned authority on the secret world of opium recounts his descent into ruinous obsession with one of the world's oldest and most seductive drugs, in this harrowing memoir of addiction and recovery.

A natural-born collector with a nose for exotic adventure, San Diego--born Steven Martin followed his bliss to Southeast Asia, where he found work as a freelance journalist. While researching an article about the vanishing culture of opium smoking, he was inspired to begin collecting rare nineteenth-century opium-smoking equipment. Over time, he amassed a valuable assortment of exquisite pipes, antique lamps, and other opium-related accessories--and began putting it all to use by smoking an extremely potent form of the drug called chandu. But what started out as recreational use grew into a thirty-pipe-a-day habit that consumed Martin's every waking hour, left him incapable of work, and exacted a frightful physical and financial toll. In passages that will send a chill up the spine of anyone who has ever lived in the shadow of substance abuse, Martin chronicles his efforts to control and then conquer his addiction--from quitting cold turkey to taking "the cure" at a Buddhist monastery in the Thai countryside.

At once a powerful personal story and a fascinating historical survey, Opium Fiend brims with anecdotes and lore surrounding the drug that some have called the methamphetamine of the nineteenth-century. It recalls the heyday of opium smoking in the United States and Europe and takes us inside the befogged opium dens of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The drug's beguiling effects are described in vivid detail--as are the excruciating pains of withdrawal--and there are intoxicating tales of pipes shared with an eclectic collection of opium aficionados, from Dutch dilettantes to hard-core addicts to world-weary foreign correspondents.

A compelling tale of one man's transformation from respected scholar to hapless drug slave, Opium Fiend puts us under opium's spell alongside its protagonist, allowing contemporary readers to experience anew the insidious allure of a diabolical vice that the world has all but forgotten.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,

    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore . . .

    --Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" (1845)

    Halloween, that day of symbolic horrors, seemed an appropriate time to stop. I had already stocked the refrigerator of my apartment in Bangkok's Chinatown with nutritious, easy-to-digest food such as goat's milk and yogurt, even though I knew it would be days before I could eat again. The flush lever on my toilet had long before rusted tight, and I'd become accustomed to lifting the lid of the water tank and pulling up on the little chain. Within a day or so that porcelain lid would be too heavy for me to lift, so I took it off and put it behind the toilet where I wouldn't trip over it.

    The door to my ninth-floor flat was situated down a dark corridor and next to a little-used stairwell that was marked as a fire escape. Like most doors in Chinatown, mine was barred against intruders with a wrought iron outer door. From inside the apartment it was possible to reach out through the bars of the outer door and fasten a large padlock on its latch, giving the impression that nobody was home. My bedroom window looked out on the corridor, and it, too, was barred. In addition to the bars, this window had layers of opacity to ensure privacy: on the inside heavy drapes, and on the outside a tinted windowpane completely obscured by a screen covered with dust so thick it might have been mistaken for a curtain of ash-colored velvet. From outside my apartment it was all but impossible to tell that I was inside.

    For months I had been a recluse to the extent that my face-to-face social obligations were almost nil. But this situation was masked by the fact that I worked from home--people rarely saw me in person anyway. Communications didn't worry me. Everybody knew that email had become my preferred method of keeping in touch. What they didn't know was that I'd discovered email was perfect for preserving a façade of normalcy no matter how crazy things got. I could take as long as I needed to reply while fabricating plausible excuses as to why I couldn't leave my apartment. If I became too addled to talk coherently, I could dodge telephone calls by simply ignoring them. Roxanna was the one person whose calls would be difficult to ignore, but her invitations had fallen off as my downward spiral had become more and more apparent.

    As I waited for the symptoms to start, I began to think of ways to occupy my mind. I was no stranger to this scenario: I had twice tried to put a halt to my daily smoking. My first attempt might have succeeded if only I'd been more disciplined. Backing off from the habit wasn't as difficult as I'd thought it would be, and this had made me confident that I was still my own master. But then I lost control. Two months of restrained dabbling on weekends had descended into a daily orgy of indulgence.

    A second attempt at cutting back was harder, but I'd managed to abstain for a whole month before finding the perfect excuse for a relapse.  And thus began my free fall. Subsequent attempts to quit were painful ordeals that lasted a single harrowing night and ended at dawn, when I would crawl back to the mat, light the lamp, and smoke with a voraciousness that shocked me. I watched as my own hands prepared pipe after pipe, both thrilled and terrified to know that a line I'd memorized from a Victorian-era book now applied to me: I had "succumbed to the fascinations of opium."

    By Halloween 2007, I had been smoking opium continuously for months--as much as thirty pipes a day. I decided to try to quit again. This time, I told myself, I would not fail. I...

About the Author-
  • Steven Martin was born and raised in San Diego. After four years in the U.S. Navy, he moved to Thailand. A freelance writer, he has written articles for the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and the Asian edition of Time. He has also contributed to guidebooks for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Martin has gathered one of the world's largest, most diverse collection of antique opium-smoking paraphernalia, and has written an illustrated book on the subject, The Art of Opium Antiques. His expertise has led to consulting work for museums and films, most recently for HBO's period drama Boardwalk Empire.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2012
    Boldly written, in-depth account of an expatriate aesthete's dalliance with opium. Journalist Martin (The Art of Opium Antiques, 2007) builds this unusual memoir around a clever conceit, making literal the similarities between collecting and addiction. Following a San Diego childhood marked by his urge to collect "anything that caught my fancy" and a stint in the Navy, Martin became a Bangkok-based writer of travel guides who first collected textiles before developing a then-obscure specialty: finely crafted opium accessories from the late-19th and early-20th centuries, when usage was both widespread and decried in Asia, America and France. Since then, opportunities to smoke opium have become rare. Organized crime diverts most poppy harvests toward heroin production, and Asian governments crack down upon any resurgence as an embarrassing historical slur. Through his collecting fervor, Martin eventually met a few devotees who had access to pure opium, or chandu. Since he by then possessed a unique collection of antique paraphernalia for the smoking ritual, he developed friendships that led first to extravagantly decadent smoking sessions, which via opium's unique intoxication seemed to them deeply intellectual, but then to his own out-of-control addiction. He was bemused to find both opium's wondrous qualities and the terrors of dependency much as they were depicted in his research. Ultimately, running out of both money and connections, Martin successfully negotiated the painful withdrawal at a Buddhist monastery. The author's writing is capable and clear; though some of his opiated reveries can seem pretentious, he captures modern-day Southeast Asia--and the surreal risks of pursuing such experiences there--in vivid, concrete terms. While his depiction of addiction's hazards is original and harrowing, his intellectual forthrightness seems nervy in the current political tenor, making the book stand out among recent memoirs. Ambitious and thoughtful work, successfully fusing the personal and social by raising complex questions about drugs, addiction and contested cultural narratives.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2012

    Having settled in Thailand because of a longtime interest in the glories of the Orient past, freelance reporter Martin began collecting opium-smoking equipment. Then he began smoking opium, developing a bottomless addiction broken only by a stay at a Buddhist monastery. Great on the shelf next to popular books like David Sheff's Beautiful Boy and Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and I understand that there's real curiosity about this lesser-known drug; a 2000 Vanity Fair story by Nick Tosches still holds the record for reader response.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Peter Hessler, author of River Town and Country Driving Advance praise for Opium Fiend

    "Steven Martin's fascinating memoir runs so much deeper than the standard literature about drugs. Whereas most writers never move beyond obsessive descriptions of physical effects, Martin's true interests are cultural and intellectual: He connects the urge of the drug addict with the compulsion of the art collector. By the end of this book you'll have a new sympathy for both kinds of fiend."
  • Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight "Steven Martin writes with a wit and style every bit as intoxicating as his subject. Entwining endlessly fascinating exotic detail with soul-searing personal revelation, this remarkable author has produced a driving, powerful autobiography unlike any of the countless narco-memoirs cluttering the shelves today. One warning to potential readers: Opium Fiend is the kind of book that makes the rest of the world disappear. It draws you in from the very first page, until you stagger out, blinking at the sun, not sure you ever wanted it to end. Dim the lights, lock the doors, and prepare to be addicted. The kick's a bitch, but the high is like nothing else in the world."
  • Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill and Hella Nation "Opium Fiend is the most engaging memoir of the year. What begins as Steven Martin's search into the lost history of opium--whose trade was once as consequential to empires as oil is today--becomes a harrowing exploration of the liberating, enlightening, and enslaving ecstasies of a forbidden pipe. It's a tale not so much of addiction but of self-immolating obsession. While crafting a spellbinding literary read, Martin never loses focus on his original aim. Opium Fiend stands as a fascinating, never-before-told social history of the poppy blossom's central place in the rise and fall of nations. As addictive as its subject matter, Opium Fiend should come with a warning that it may lead to lost nights and weekends of intensely pleasurable reading."
  • Karl Taro Greenfeld, author of Speed Tribes, Boy Alone, and Triburbia "This is a beautiful book. Opium Fiend is clear and honest. I don't know that I have ever been invested in anything with the intellectual and emotional intensity that Martin has for his subject, and there is great romance and literary truth in how the object of his desire is also his undoing."
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A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction
Steven Martin
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