Sea of Poppies

Sea of Poppies

Paperback - 2009
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The first in an epic trilogy, Sea of Poppies is "a remarkably rich saga . . . which has plenty of action and adventure à la Dumas, but moments also of Tolstoyan penetration--and a drop or two of Dickensian sentiment" ( The Observer [London]).

At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis . Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais , or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton. With a panorama of characters whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, Sea of Poppies is "a storm-tossed adventure worthy of Sir Walter Scott" ( Vogue ).

Publisher: New York : Picador, [2009]
ISBN: 9780312428594
Characteristics: 543 p. : map ; 21 cm.


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Dec 03, 2019

After listening to an interview with the author Ghosh on his latest book, The Gun Merchant, and its' metaphorical theme of climate change, I wanted to read it but since it wasn't available, I opted for this book - and loved it. The characters come alive and I was pulled to this time in the mid 1800s set in India but connecting across continents to America, China, England. I found the vernacular fascinating and not detracting. History always gives a fresh perspective and Ghosh takes you into this time. I will sooner or later pick up the other two in this trilogy.

May 29, 2018

The writing is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and the major characters all end up being something other (or more) than what they first seem. It's true that the vocabulary is difficult. If you love words, you can look everything up online or in the glossary. If you just want to know what happens next, you can go with the flow. Most of the tricky words are the parts of ships or the types of people on ships. You'll get the gist, even if you don't look them up. It's also true that the ending is a cliffhanger, but that didn't bother me, since this is part of a trilogy.

Mazzarati Apr 29, 2018

I was looking forward to this initially, having never read anything by Amitav Ghosh before. It defies any logic why this made it onto the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, however. The characters are like something out of a kids cartoon. Every single page has swathes of slang, Hindi expressions and specialist sailing terms. This becomes super annoying because there is no glossary. The story is like a mix of mills-and-boon-meets-pirates-of-the-Caribbean. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a sequel, movie deal and merchandise.

Sep 28, 2017

The use of slangs made the book difficult read. If you can imagine past that, the story is one of adventure by a good collection of characters. The ending seems abrupt and felt the book ran out of pages. However, that leaves me wanting to continue with the next in the series.

Apr 06, 2017

I stopped reading at page 80. The slang is just too bothersome. You'd think an author with "numerous prizes and awards" would have a good editor.

Sep 25, 2015

I really wanted to like this book and so I stayed with it. It jumps around regarding the different characters but it takes until two-thirds of the book for the Ibis to actual go to sea. The language of the book was also very disconcerting and made me stop and reread passages. The author tried to give a sense of english and indian slang writing complete sentences in pigin english, etc. There is a glossary at the back of the book, but it is more to describe the root of the word rather than the meaning. I got tired of looking up words and just went with the flow, hoping by osmosis I would get the meanings. The latter half of the book is less about the language (Thank God...) and more about the convergence of the different characters that make it onto the ship. And then the book just ends! A lifeboat is cast off and what happens to characters? Well, I guess you have to read the sequel...if you can find it. I have read triologies and each and every book can stand on its own. Not this one and that to me is a failing. Cliffhanger endings may be good for serial shows, but not in a book. Having lost interest in the characters, I'm not going to bother pursing the sequel or whatever. For these reasons, I would not recommend this book.

Aug 23, 2015

I liked the book but found The Glossary/reference re: terms, phrases, names of things less than helpful and in fact obscured things so that I had to guess as what was meant though story was quite clear. The things done in the name of the Lord astounds me sometimes and lets me know people don't read the Bible in entirety. "Neel" quoted in glossary - confused me as to whether he's real, imaginary or what. (Will read rest of series and perhaps find out.)

Aug 18, 2015

see chronical review of 8/16-22,, 2015 photo saved in books in evernote

Dec 08, 2014

All I can say is, read this as soon as possible! One of the best novels I've read in some time, it's a combination literary work and adventure tale, with a fresh commentary on colonialism, racism, and identity. The British Raj from the perspective of an array of non-European characters. Brilliant! The really good news is it's just the first of a planned trilogy...

Mar 20, 2014

This book is a fascinating story of a diverse group of people, mainly from the Calcutta region, linked in the opium trade of the early 1800s and brought together on a schooner taking them all to Mauritius. Of particular interest for me was the depictions of the lives of each of them and their associates under British rule. The various characters receive a sensitive portrait, including a high-caste peasant woman who depends on the crop of poppies she grows; an Indian aristocrat who loses his lands to the British and ends up in a British jail; a river boatman and the French woman he grew up with; a religious devotee who wants to become, and thinks he is becoming, the female god he adores; and an American seaman of mixed African and American heritage. Ghosh portrays each member of this diversity of class and culture with such care and detail that each has a unique setting and character, and all have depth and solidity. Even the minor characters, such as the British traders who show up from time to time are given detailed portraits, if less sympathetic ones. The fortunes of some rise, while the fortunes of others (the majority it seems) plunge.
Also fascinating are the evocative images he paints – the opening descriptions of the poppy fields, or the opium factory, or the shipboard life, are clear pictures in my mind and remain with me after reading. The extraordinary incidents of setting the sail on the jib masts, or the monsoon tidal bore that sweeps up the Hooghly River, stand out like the stories that Jack London told of life at sea.
Ghosh’s language is playful and gives another level of appreciation. He picks up words from a variety of local languages, as well as maritime slang, and if the meaning is not always obvious, the sense of it is. This gives a bit of a sense of the complex ethnic inter-relations in the region and the apparent ability of local residents to communicate effectively, if not perfectly, over language barriers. Puzzling, though, is what looks like a glossary at the back of the book, apparently compiled by one of the characters, in a highly idiosyncratic style with meanings that sometimes seem to be entirely made up. But then, that is the nature of explanatory texts – they reflect the writer’s bias and sometimes mislead. Perhaps, given the history of the region, that’s why it’s such a central preoccupation in the writing.
More than character or exotic colour, what gives the book depth is the sociological observation – the relations between castes, between the imperial powers and their various underclasses, between genders, between religions. It’s a fascinating tapestry of different themes that gives me a much richer picture of southeast Asian lives than the simple types I had before reading the book. And, I like the way that Ghosh has some characters articulate imperialist rationalizing, although he is completely convincing in the language and attitudes expressed. His characters are not stereotypes in a set game, but complex individuals who hold certain beliefs that were, I believe, well established in their time (and it’s not hard to find reflections of them today).
The ending is abrupt, but simply sets up the next volume in the trilogy. I look forward to reading the next books to follow the stories that are introduced in this book.

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Oct 29, 2019

“in her inward reality she was a vehicle of transformation, travelling through the mists of illusion towards the elusive, ever-receding landfall that was Truth.”

Oct 29, 2019

“How was it that no one had ever told her that it was not love itself, but its treacherous gatekeepers which made the greatest demands on your courage: the panic of acknowledging it; the terror of declaring it; the fear of being rebuffed? Why had no one told her that love's twin was not hate but cowardice?”


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