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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies (2008)

by Amitav Ghosh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Ibis Trilogy (1)

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1,9561243,479 (3.94)2 / 626

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English (117)  Italian (4)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (2)  Norwegian (2)  Vietnamese (1)  All languages (128)
Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
This book started slowly, but then really engaged me. The dialogue, with all of its archaic English and Indian vocabulary was difficult at first, but gradually I realised it added a certain flavour to the story. This was a real yarn, and I very much look forward to the second novel in the trilogy. ( )
  oparaxenos | Nov 27, 2015 |
This rollicking adventure story about colonial India was beaten to the 2008 Booker Prize by The White Tiger, a novel that trades on its gritty realism but which is actually just as much a fantasy of Indian life as this one. On the face of it, Sea of Poppies seems the more enjoyable. It has a huge, Dickensian cast that includes a fallen Rajah, a Chinese opium addict, a European girl gone native, a cross-dressing reincarnated saint, an American freedman and a poppy-farmer's widow, and its plot takes in dramatic rescues, nefarious Brits, girls-dressed-as-boys, floggings and secret assignations and portentous items of jewelry. Yet somehow there seems to be little going on under the surface – it's thematically a bit hollow and I kept feeling that I should be liking it more than I was.

At first glance, it's the sort of writing that should really appeal to me, because Ghosh's entry into this world and to these characters is all linguistic. Every character has their own ludicrous demotic, with our American second mate exclaiming, ‘Grease-us twice! What the hell you pesticatin me for,’ while Paulette, a young Frenchwoman, speaks in an entertaining but completely implausible Franglais – ‘you are just pleasanting me’, ‘he was quite bouleversed!’ The main narrative voice, meanwhile, is a hallucinogenic Anglo-Indian farrago that has been turned up to eleven, like Hobson-Jobson in an opium dream – the density of the following paragraph is not untypical:

In this floating bazar there was everything a ship or a lascar might need: canvas by the gudge, spare jugboolaks and zambooras, coils of istingis and rup-yan, stacks of seetulpatty mats, tobacco by the batti, rolls of neem-twigs for the teeth, martabans of isabgol for constipation, and jars of columbo-root for dysentery: one ungainly gordower even had a choola going with a halwai frying up fresh jalebis.

I have a high tolerance for (indeed love of) opaque vocabulary, but even I found it wearing here – the effect is too extreme to come across as anything but parodic. Tellingly, Ghosh reserves a special thank-you in his afterword for the ‘dictionarists’ whose work he so assiduously plundered – not just Hobson-Jobson, but also a variety of colonial-era slang-lists and glossaries, like A Laskari Dictionary or Anglo-Indian Vocabulary of Nautical Terms and Phrases in English and Hindustani. It's hard not to wish he'd been a smidgen more sparing in how he used this research.

Though I found it strangely unsatisfying, there is a lot to like here, really – lush, gothic descriptions of an opium factory, a British jail, the hold of a slaving vessel are all well worth the cover price, and the characters are so bizarre that they rarely struggle to hold your interest. I had a lot of fun, but I don't feel in a mad rush to read the rest of the trilogy. ( )
  Widsith | Nov 9, 2015 |
This is my third reading of this novel. I read it over every time the next in the trilogy comes out. I absolutely LOVE this novel. The language is so complex, richly layered, and dizzyingly delightful; sometimes shockingly coarse and sometimes hauntingly poetic. You'll get nuanced tastes of Canton, Calcutta, England, America, a dash of Persian and French. This book has everything! pirates, feminism, botany, opium eaters, romance, brutality, high-seas adventure, religious hypocrisy, devoted parents, orphans, shockingly bigoted British exceptionalism/imperialism, heartwarming friendships, homosexuality/forbidden relationships, transgender transformation, the most dastardly villains and the most endearing good-hearted people. Definitely on my list of favorite novels of all time for all time. ( )
  libbromus | Oct 6, 2015 |
I enjoyed The Glass Palace but I found this more of slog. It took a while for all the characters to connect and then felt a bit contrived when they did arrive together on the Ibis. The various dialects and patois were hard to follow at times and I soon gave up on trying to keep track of what word meant what. I was drawn into parts of the story but I saw so much of it coming that I started to feel very played by it. I'm not sure I will seek out the rest of the trilogy to see what happens to everyone.
  amyem58 | May 10, 2015 |
A great story, but even more, a great linguistic adventure. Ghosh plays with the idea of the many English languages that must have been heard and spoken, and the many misunderstandings that would arise in a time where ocean trade and travel were still hazardous and unpredictable. ( )
1 vote poingu | Feb 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amitav Ghoshprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Has the (non-series) sequel

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To Nayan
For his fifteenth
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The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
(...) dat de essentie van die transformatie gelegen was in een enkel woord (...)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312428596, Paperback)

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).


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:16 -0400)

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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.

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