Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

About the book

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive – a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists.

Reviewed by Morning Tide WI Reading Group:

There was too much use of local patois, too little story about the opium trade, too much description of the ships of that time. A difficult book to read, we were all disappointed (several did not complete the book).

Star rating: *+

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1 thought on “Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh”

  1. Review by Boaters Book Club:
    Although many found it took a while to get into the book, all finished it (despite its length of more than 600 pages). We found the story very exciting and the descriptions very good. The array of characters were liked, as was the history about, for example, the East Indian Company, the opium trade, British Empire attitudes, the religions and cultures and caste system, the Raj, the food at the banquet. Also seen as interesting were the trumped up charges and the court case against Neel, the various aspects of the ship Ibis, the location of the places mentioned and the spiritual possession of Baboo Nob Kissin (various interpretations about this were put forward and we had all viewed it in different ways). Not liked by some were the poverty and perverted sex descriptions. Also the dialects and pigeon English were generally not liked but were discussed extensively. It was felt a glossary would have helped. Some felt the book was too bitty with too much detail. It was considered complex and to be a book that needed to be read carefully. Everyone was driven along by the story line. The ending was not liked for its abruptness, however it was highlighted that it is to be part of a trilogy! Many are now looking forward to reading more. The last person to speak happened to have read it on a Kindle. This highlighted many additional aspects like the meaning of the dialects and pigeon English,, as a glossary is provided! Also that the author is related to Neel as well as the authenticity of the story.
    Star rating: ***

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