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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies (original 2008; edition 2009)

by Amitav Ghosh

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1,8671223,700 (3.95)2 / 594
Title:Sea of Poppies
Authors:Amitav Ghosh
Info:Picador (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 560 pages
Tags:fiction, India, opium, imperialism, sea travel

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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (2008)


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English (113)  Italian (4)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (2)  Norwegian (2)  Vietnamese (1)  All languages (124)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
A large cast of characters populates this novel of India, China and the British opium traders. It took me awhile to get into the story. This was partly due to the heavy use of a sort of maritime patois which was both colorful and difficult to understand, partly due to a little trouble keeping track of whose story was being told at the moment. I eventually got the thread of the story and enjoyed it very much. Bringing the wide array of characters together on a ship was a clever way to show the clash of culture, religion and class on a personal level. ( )
  nittnut | Jan 20, 2015 |
Well, its a bit of a penny dreadful isnt it? The book it reminds me most of is Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger - its very much written to the same formula. Find a vanished aspect of colonialism, in Unsworth's case the slave trade, for Ghosh its the opium trade, and you can construct a narrative thread that brings together a motley cast of mutlicultural characters. Even better if you can grasp the patois of the time - and Ghosh's use of maritime patois based on a mix of Malay, Hindi, Portugese and goodness knows what else, is the best thing about the book. The language feels right and helps you get into the characters' skins.

But the plot is predictable; people you think will fall in love, do so. People's who's fall is predicted, duly fall (finding humility in the process). Blaggards get their come uppance. True love overcomes obstacles. To the author's credit the plot rattles along and mostly sweeps you with it. But the author also has an irritating need to tie up all possible loose ends - characters who leave the narrative on p60 duly reappear on p400 - and how likely is it that you will find someone from your home village in central India on a ship from Calcutta to Mauritius for the sake of tying up a loose plot line? I find that sort of thing irritating

So overall entertaining in its way, but literary fiction its not ( )
  Opinionated | Jun 17, 2014 |
I'm not quite sure what to make of this sprawling book. Sometimes it's filled with too many details and lists, and sometimes it's so full of pidgin as to be incomprehensible (the glossary is of little help). Yet, this tale of people from disparate backgrounds all setting sail for a new life with new stories is a lot of fun.

Major themes include racism, classism, gender roles, and plain old everyday greed. The British take over India to make money. In Sea of Poppies, it's the opium trade with China. Money is being made hand over fist until the Chinese decide to ban opium, which causes the usual uproar over open markets, for which the English want to go to war.

The ship Ibis was once a slave ship and is pressed into service for transport of people to the Mauritius Islands to work the sugar cane fields on British owned plantations. Mr. Burnham, one of the opium traders, stands to make a great deal of money from the labor of the migrants in the hold of his ship and the sale of opium to the Chinese.

It is on his ship, our large cast of characters meet. And, while their backgrounds and stories have been told before setting sail, it is on the Ibis that the meaning of those stories, and the clashing of them, begins to show fruit.

Sea of Poppies is a complex, sprawling story with an anti-climactic ending. Not meant to be read as a stand-alone, this first book in a trilogy is merely the opening salvo in what could be a rip-roaring tale. ( )
  AuntieClio | May 25, 2014 |
A marvelous, joyous explosion of language, of beautiful prose mixed with an inventive mix of the distinctive English/Indian mix spoken in Calcutta in 1800s. A vast Dickensian scope, loads of fascinating characters, and a whole slice of history based on opium. A vast new world for the reader to sink into. Not for everyone, but highly recommended for lovers of classic novels. ( )
  twopairsofglasses | Apr 27, 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. ( )
  rab1953 | Mar 13, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amitav Ghoshprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Nayan
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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?
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(...) 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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:50 -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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