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Sea of Poppies Group Read: Week One

75 Books Challenge for 2011

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Nov 28, 2011, 8:26am Top

Here we go again guys! This one kicks off on Dec 7th and like the last G.R. we'll use this 1st thread for week one and I'll post a week 2 later on. I'll also return and break up the book in readable chunks. Sound good?

Nov 28, 2011, 10:42am Top

Thread on the wiki as usual... :)

Nov 28, 2011, 11:27am Top

I have the book and will not crack it open until December 7. Looking forward to it.

Dec 4, 2011, 10:24am Top

I have wanted to read this for a while.......think I will join in....on the 7th!

Dec 4, 2011, 11:16am Top

Well, I have this one sitting on my MP3, and the last four audios I've started haven't done much for me, so I'm thinking I'll at least start this one in a couple days and see how it goes. It looks intriguing but long, and this time of year, it's difficult for me to concentrate on anything at all = print, audio, nook......maybe I just need a good shot of eggnog.

Mark--How long do you anticipate this will go? If I get into it, I'll probably proceed at my own pace, and then chime into the GR when the group gets to a spot I want to comment on.

Dec 4, 2011, 11:40am Top

Hey, we are getting some more interest! Yah! Welcome a board, guys!

hemlokgang- what is your 1st name, if you don't mind me asking? Mine is Mark.

Tina- I plan on splitting the book in 2, spreading it out through 2 weeks. Of course, reading at your own pace is fully encouraged. Glad you can join us.

Dec 4, 2011, 11:43am Top

How about we read thru Chapter 11, (about page 245) for Week One and then Chapter 12 to finish, on Week 2?
How does that sound?

Dec 4, 2011, 12:45pm Top

Sounds good....my first name is Ferris........

Edited: Dec 5, 2011, 11:07am Top

If you are worried about keeping up with the group don't be. I have joined Mark for several of these group reads and he reads much faster than do I. The beauty of these threads is that you can chime in when you want to and you don't have to be reading right on schedule with everybody else. Just don't move on to the second thread until you have reached that point in your reading or you will have to deal with spoilers. I will start reading on this tonight.

Dec 5, 2011, 11:31am Top

I'll be joining in the group read, though I won't get to start the book until later in the week. I plan to make it my main priority after I finish the library books that need to get read and returned.

Dec 7, 2011, 11:11pm Top

Just about to start the book....looking forward to it!

Dec 8, 2011, 7:02am Top

I think we have another winner here. What an engaging story! The slang may take some getting used to, but it looks like it will be more than worth it.
I love the introduction to these characters!

Ferris- Enjoy!!

Dec 8, 2011, 11:15am Top

My copy (the paperback version) has a glossary in the back. That might prove helpful but it slows down reading as I find myself flipping through pages instead of reading when I take time to look at glossaries.

I finished my other book last night and will start reading on this book during my lunch hour today so might have more to add later.

Dec 8, 2011, 12:01pm Top

My recommendation is not to worry too much about looking up the unfamiliar words. With some of the characters there are so many of them it would really be a hindrance to reading - and you can usually get the gist of the general meaning if you just let it all flow over you!

Dec 9, 2011, 10:50am Top

This may sound a bit odd, but I knew as I opened the book to the first page that I would enjoy this read. The paper felt so good to the touch...it is a longtime thing for me that part of the pleasure of reading an actual book is the feel of it, the type used, the paper. You know how nowadays you can pick up a book of 300 or more pages, but the weight of the book is very light? This hardcover edition has heft! And the glossary....it is so much more than a glossary...it is a conversation about the love of language. I have never seen that before. And all of that is before even starting to actually read the book.......

Dec 9, 2011, 11:00am Top

15 - Ferris, I'm glad you mentioned the heft of the book. I have the trade paperback edition and it has this same substantial quality. And the pages are silky smooth! My goal is to read the first five chapters today. Back later with comments.

Dec 9, 2011, 12:35pm Top

This is going to be a slow read for me...I have the audio and the first 71 pages (free sample) on my NOOK. I'm trying to take it slow and steady - already I'm enjoying the cadence of the words on the audio....it's almost like music, as is the imagery of the sailing ship. I've not gotten far enough to engage with the characters yet, but I'm liking what I'm seeing(hearing).

Dec 9, 2011, 4:23pm Top

#17 I agree with you. I am not far into the book - only about 10 pages - but I am already engrossed and like what I am reading. The words do have a different kind of flow and feel to them. It sort of reminds me of Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet in that regard. I think that the word I am looking for is lyrical.

#15 that glossary is really something. I spent some time just reading parts of that. It is as interesting as the book.

Dec 9, 2011, 10:05pm Top

I finished the first five chapters, and am finding this book fascinating. The characters and various story lines are compelling. I wish I didn't have holiday commitments so I could spend all day - and night - reading!

I loved the mixture of comedy and gravity of Neel's grand dinner. I didn't think he could pull it off after finding scorpions under the table and most of the dishes and silverware missing. It was brilliant to put the lilies in the chamber pot! How would you like to have the gauche Mr. Doughty as a dinner guest? The table conversation got rather tense about the opium trade and China.

Tina, I'm not a big fan of audio books, but this would probably be a good one to listen to. I'm going to see if my library has it and perhaps supplement (and/or reinforce) my reading with a bit of audio.

Benita, I took a look at the Chrestomathy (a new word for me), and agree that it deserves attention in its own right.

Dec 9, 2011, 11:30pm Top

Donna...I was actually able to get the audio via an Overdrive download so be sure to check that out if your library participates.

Dec 12, 2011, 4:48pm Top

As I began reading the first 100 pages or so, I am reminded of the way I felt when I started reading Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.....overwhelmed. However, taking the same leap of literary faith now as I did then, i had confidence that it would all start to make sense......and it does. So many interesting characters and themes.....opium, castes, India as the place Europe hides its shame and greed, life amidst innumerable languages and beliefs.....Ghosh has tackled a mammoth story.....enjoying it thoroughly!

Edited: Dec 12, 2011, 5:31pm Top

Kalua's rescue of Deeti from the funeral pyre.......love it and their wedding!

I also loved Neel's grand meal....complete with chamber pot for a vase!

Dec 12, 2011, 6:25pm Top

These are the notes I have made in my reading journal for the first 150 pages:

> p.3...Opening line is lovely...."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 norther Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?"

> p.35..."...how frail a creature was a human being, to be tamed by such tiny doses of this substance! She saw now why the factory in Ghazipur was so diligently patrolled by the sahibs and their sepoys--for if a little bit of this gum could give her such power over the life, the character, the very soul of this elderly woman, then with more of it at her disposal, why should she not be able to seize kingdoms and control multitudes?".....Deeti begins to see the power of opium

> p. 87...absolutely horrifying imagery of men squashing opium with their feet while totally wasted by its opiate power, felt like I was reading Dante's Inferno

> p.159..."...it was as if the uncovering of her face had stripped the veil from his own masnhood, leaving him naked and exposed to the gloating pity of the world, to a shame that could never be overcome."....Neel seeing his wife's veil dropping as the police take him away....also a metaphor for the stripping of the dignity of millions

> p.163..."Even then she did not feel herself to be living in the same sense as before: a curious feeling, of joy mixed with resignation, crept into her heart, for it was as if she really had died and been delivered betimes in rebirth, to her next life; she had shed the body of the old Deeti, with the burden of its karma; she had paid the price her stars had demanded of her, and was free now to create a new destiny as she willed, with whom she chose--and she knew that it was with Kalua that this life would be lived, until another death claimed the body that he had torn from the flames

Dec 12, 2011, 7:06pm Top

Ferris, I think I need to take better notes! I loved your comments It's funny that I thought of Kafka's The Trial as Deeti was wending her way through the opium factory to find her husband. What a labyrinth of horror!

There was plenty of foreshadowing about Kalua and Deeti, but I was still a little surprised at how readily she accepted him and made the first move toward their union.

I didn't have much time for reading over the week end. I'm ready to begin Part II (Chapter 8). I picked up the audio version at the library this afternoon and will try listening to part of it as I bake and wrap presents this week; however, most of my time will be spent turning pages as that is a better way for me to comprehend a book like this that demands full attention.

Edited: Dec 12, 2011, 7:20pm Top

I'm so sorry for neglecting my Group Read! I planned to stop over a couple times yesterday and...never did. Bad host.
The good news is, I am LOVING this book! I'm closing in on the halfway point. This is a slow read for me but it's the type of narrative that demands it, so that's perfect.
And what about these characters? This has to be my favorite ensemble of the year. How about that Serang Ali and Baboo Nob Kissin? Is that a great name or what?
I love how this oddball group is slowly coming together. Priceless.

Dec 12, 2011, 7:21pm Top

Ferris- thanks for sharing your thoughts and quotes. I loved them all.

Dec 12, 2011, 7:25pm Top

The character names are truly priceless!

Edited: Dec 13, 2011, 5:03pm Top

My copy of River of Smoke, the sequel to Sea of Poppies just arrived the other day. I flipped through it and saw lots of familiar names, so I must be retaining more of the names than I thought!

Dec 13, 2011, 5:03pm Top

Final notes for the Week One section:

> p.169..."...or having discovered that life ashore was far more attractive when you were at sea than when your feet were a-trip on the slick turf of lubber-land."....like that

> p.219..."Would it not be the duty of this court to deal with such a man in exemplary fashion, not just in strict observance of the law, but also to discharge that sacred trust that charges us to instruct the natives of this land in the laws and usages that govern the conduct of civilized nations?"...First, who entrusted the English, Second....who entrusted the English?

> p.221..."In the course of his trial it had become almost laughably obvious to Neel that in this system of justice, it was the English themselves...who were exempt from the law as it applied to others: it was they who had become the world's new Brahmins."

> p.223..."Each woman had always practised her own method in the belief that none other could possibly exist: it was bewildering at first, then funny, then exciting...."....budding awareness of variation within their own culture, which is exciting to them but threatening to others

>p.232..."The table's centrepiece.....a stuffed roast peacock, mounted upon a silver stand, with its tail outspread as if for an imminent mating." How appetizing!

> I love the "Thermantidote"....the antidote to overheating which backfired! Like most of the government's antidotes in this book!

> p. 242..."We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that when we kill people we feel compelled to pretend that it is for some higher cause. It is this pretense of virtue, I promise you, that will never be forgiven by history." Chilling words from Captain Chillingworth

Dec 13, 2011, 9:30pm Top

I have enjoyed the first part of this book so much. It's heading for a 5-star rating!

Normally when I read a book with different story lines, one of them takes precedence and I can't wait to get back to it. In SOP I like all the plot threads equally which means I'm a happy reader!

>29 hemlokgang:: Re quote on Pg. 242... I was listening to this section while cleaning out the frig. When I heard what the captain said, I found it in the book so I could make note of his views on war. There are so many good quotes that I think I'll go back to reading it so I can savor them.

I like how all the characters are slowly meeting their destiny by coming on board the Ibis. I think the rest of the book will go quickly because I don't want to put it down.

Dec 13, 2011, 9:55pm Top

So, I looked up the definition of "ibis" in case it had anything interesting to add to the understanding of the novel......

any of several wading birds related to the herons and constituting the family Threskiornithidae that inhabit warm regions in both hemispheres and feed on aquatic and amphibious animals and are distinguished by a long slender downwardly curved bill resembling a curlew's bill

Do you think the ship is feeding on the amphibious humans who come in contact with it?

Dec 13, 2011, 11:18pm Top

Normally when I read a book with different story lines, one of them takes precedence and I can't wait to get back to it. In SOP I like all the plot threads equally which means I'm a happy reader! Oh Donna, you really hit this one on the head. I am really enjoying this in two media. I listen to about 30-40 minutes, then sit down and skim through the same pages in print. I'm not missing anything, but it just allows me to cement all these interesting characters and wallow in the lyricism of the prose. I definitely think the audio makes it more musical. There's no way my little pea brain would have been able to "hear" that cadence or rhythm just by reading.

At the same time, my ear doesn't always pick up the nuances of the strange words and it's good to see what I've been hearing.

Anyway I am especially attracted to Zach's story (I'm from Baltimore too and my father worked in that shipyard about 100 or so years after Zach did) and love the salty language and imagery with is really quite amusing. I'm compiling my own "glossary" of colorful expressions.

The whole thing brings very much to mind the book Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet where both Zachary and Jacob go to sea, have unusual cross-cultural experiences, learn different languages, experience flahses of "good fortune" and are very much under the influence of foreign officers who hold their lives in their hands.

Oh, I have to stop blathering and get back to reading!!!!

Dec 14, 2011, 4:38am Top

I figured from the first that the ship had some sort of symbolic importance simply because the author made a point of telling us that it was built as a slave ship. The author then described how that one function had influenced the shape of the ship and given it a distinctive appearance. That made me think that the idea of slavery had something to do with the story. I have not read farther than page 70 (I just don't have much time to read right now) but the idea of being a slave, in one form or another, seems to be a recurring theme with the characters that I have read about so far.

This book reminded me of Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as well. I has a somewhat dreamy quality that flows so easily and yet makes you very aware of injustice and inequities perpetrated by the colonial system. It is easy to read but hard on the conscience.

Dec 14, 2011, 7:59am Top

#33....."easy to read but hard on the conscience.". Exactly!

Dec 14, 2011, 8:30am Top

See, I got so wrapped up in the book, I forgot to put up Week 2. Am I losing my grip here, folks?


This will take us from Chap 12 to the finish line. I have a feeling this is going to end, with the Ibis getting ready to sail.

Edited: Dec 14, 2011, 8:47am Top

I agree, it also reminds me of Thousand Autumns, but where some of those separate storylines, were a bit dry and uninteresting (at least for me), these all work.

Benita- This one also reminds me of the Bartle Bull books. Exotic locales, colorful characters and multiple story lines.

I also love the descriptions of food, in the narrative:

"There was green turtle soup, served artfully in the animal's shells, a Bobotie pie, a dumbpoke of muttongosht, a tureen of Burdwaun stew, concocted from boiled hens and pickled oysters, a foogath of venison, a dish of pomfrets, soused in vinegar and sprinkled with petersilly, a Vinthaleaux of beef, with all the accompaniments, and platters of tiny roasted ortolans and pigeons, with the birds set out in the arrowhead shapes of flocks in flight."

Whew! I may not of heard of much of this but in does sound tantalizing.

Edited: Dec 14, 2011, 10:14pm Top

Taking home that copy of 660 Curries and trying out some of those exotic dishes and spices is looking like more of a possibility all the time.

Not really seeing the connection with Bartle Bull books yet, but then I am only 70 pages into this thing.

Dec 19, 2011, 11:24pm Top

Boyo....I just have not been able to find time to sit down with this one ===I love what I've read so far, and hope to be able to finish it before it has to go back to the library, but the holiday hectics are playing havoc with my reading time and energy. Normally I read to relax, but this is one book that demands my attention and isn't going to be one to "relax" me. I'm hoping to get a chunk of it read on our 10 hour trip to Baltimore later this week...but in the meantime, I'm woefully behind --only up to chapter 4.

Jan 1, 2012, 2:53pm Top

#23, 29 Thank you, Ferris, for all the wonderful quotes you are sharing. Many of them struck me too. The utterly blind callousness of the colonizing British was amazing. Reminds me of some of Kipling's works.

Jan 8, 2012, 5:27pm Top


I agree with you regarding the hubris if the British. A few weeks ago, when talking to a friend of mine about another book, she mentioned that same concept only she used the term "hubris of the colonizer." I was particularly struck by this concept when reading about the conversion (both forced and coerced) of the Bengal farmers from the growing of food and subsistence crops to the growing of the opium poppies. Then the British had the unmitigated gall to call the Bengali's lazy because they couldn't feed themselves. I find this comparative to what I have been reading about the conversion of Mexican farming from food crops to drug crops and the resulting disruption of their culture and economy.

I told another friend of mine about this book and that lead to discussion of the selling of the Opium to China and the resulting Opium Wars. Understanding the Opium Wars helps understand the mistrust of the Asians when it comes to the foreign policy of the West.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2011

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