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Sea of Poppies Group Read: Week Two

75 Books Challenge for 2011

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1msf59
Dec 14, 2011, 8:27am Top

Sorry guys, I meant to post this a few days ago. This will take us from Chapter 12 (page 245) to finish. Wow, this is such a treat! I have a sneaky premonition this will make my Best of the Year List!

2hemlokgang
Edited: Dec 18, 2011, 4:58pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

3hemlokgang
Dec 18, 2011, 4:49pm Top

I love Neeti, and am waiting to find out about the shrine that was referred to in the first half of the book!

4hemlokgang
Dec 19, 2011, 1:03pm Top

Notes up to page 345:

> absolutely love the playfulness with the languages blending.....

> p.253..."There's nothing more annoying than to be puckrowed just when you're looking forward to a sip of laudanum and a nice long sleep."...LOL...I agree

> p.300...."...was it possible that the mere fact of using one's hands and investing one's attention in someone other than oneself, created a pride and tenderness that had nothing to do with the response of the object of one's care--just as a craftsman's love for his handiwork is in no way diminished by the fact of it being unreciprocated?"....Neel's exoerience with his cellmate ......parenthood

> p.325..."...:for when a moment arrives that is so much feared and so long awaited, it perforates the veil of everyday expectation in such a way as tio reveakl the prodigious darkness of the unknown."....Deeti boards the Ibis

> p.328..."On a boat of pilgrims, no one can lose caste and everyone is the same; it's like taking a boat to the temple of Jagannath, in Puri. From now on, and forever afterwards, we will all be ship-siblings....". Paulette with the women on the Ibis....I love the "ship-sibling" concept, seems true of sharing any important experience with another person.

> p.328..."It was now Deeti understood why the image of the vessel had been revealed to her that day, when she stood immersed in the Ganga (rebirth imagery); it was because her new self, her new life, had been gestating all this while in the belly of this creature, this vessel that was the Mother-Father of her new family....an adoptive ancestor and parent of dynasties yet to come....".

> I must admit to feeling genuine apprehension when the cat left the Ibis....

New Vocabulary:
1) elision: the act or an instance of dropping out or omitting something : OMISSION, CUT

5hemlokgang
Dec 19, 2011, 2:29pm Top

From pages 345-390:

> p.348..."...the young man burst into tears, weeping so artfully that the turban wound itself around and around the couple till they were sealed inside a snug cocoon."....wonderful imagery

> p.350..."they were more than plants to her, they were the companions of her earliest childhood and their shoots seemed almost to be her own, plunged deep into this soil; no matter where she went or for how long, she knew that nothing would ever tie her to a place as did these childhood roots."....literally and figuratively, lovely phrasing...Paulette's last views of her childhood home

> Foreshadowing in threes: cat left ship, Baboo Nob Kissin Pander's rumbling bowels, and the ship crossing the path of the drowned bodies when leaving the Ganga for the open sea.....

> p.363..."...it was impossible to think of this as water at all--for water surely needed a boundary, a rim, a shore, to give it shape and hold it in place? This was a firmament, like the night sky, holding the vessel aloft as if it were a planet or a star.".....Deeti's first thoughts upon seeing the open sea ahead of them

> p.365..."No matter how hard the times at home may have been,m in the ashes of every past there were a few cinders of memory that glowed with warmth- and now,m those embers of recollection took on a new life, in the light of which their presence her, in the belly of the ship that was about to be cast into an abyss, seemed incomprehensible, a thing that could not be explained except as a lapse from sanity."

> p.367..."How had it happened that when choosing the men and women who were to be torn from this subjugated plain, the hand of destiny had strayed so far inland, away from the busy coastlines, to alight on the people who were, of all, the most stubbornly rooted in the silt of the Ganga, in soil that had to be sown with suffering to yield its crop of story and song? It was as if fate had thrust its fist through the living flesh of the land in order to tear away a piece of its stricken heart."..........I hope it is to take them to a better life?

> This dual personality, channeling thing of Baboo Nob Kissin and Taramony is quite fascinating.....I am wondering where it will lead for him and the passengers?

6hemlokgang
Edited: Dec 19, 2011, 4:31pm Top

Finally:

> p. 415..."She looked at the seed as if she had never seen one before, and suddenly she knew that it was not the planet above that governed her life; it was this minuscule orb--at once bountiful and all-devouring, merciful and destructive , sustaining and vengeful." Deeti looking at a poppy seed

>Title: The Ibis is a vessel named after a bird that wades in the shallows, yet it sets out upon the "Black Water" full of people, many of whose lives have been shaped by the almighty poppy, and who seem to be out of their natural element in one way or another. As a reader, I am left wondering, hoping, and fearing for these characters adrift in their story. Looking forward to seeing where each of them find a place to moor.

What an ending! Bring on "River of Smoke"!

7msf59
Dec 19, 2011, 7:53pm Top

Ferris- It looks like a one-woman show over here! LOL. Sorry, I got sidetracked and forgot to stop by. I finished it on Saturday and was so very pleased. And wow, a lot happens in those closing pages!
I also can't wait to read river of smoke. I'll probably do a G.R. on that one too. I might just need a reminder. May or June? No earlier for me.
BTW- thanks for all the great quotes. Nice reminders on how rich his prose is.

8hemlokgang
Dec 19, 2011, 9:52pm Top

Spring sounds good!

9tututhefirst
Dec 29, 2011, 12:07pm Top

I'm not finished yet.....just up to chapter 18, but have been absolutely positively blown away. I was reading in the car and listening (alternating.) I'm finding the audio to be fascinating. It's so well done...the different voices, accents, languages, etc really come alive and are incredibly easy to follow. This is one book I'm so glad I let you all goad me to read. It will turn out I'm sure to be one of the best of the year.

Ferris....I sort of skimmed your well documented comments, but don't want to get into them too deeply until I've finished. THis is one where I definitely don't want spoilers.

10Donna828
Dec 29, 2011, 2:34pm Top

There were so many wonderful quotes in this book that I had trouble choosing one for my comments on my thread. I decided to choose one that showed the major role The Ibis played in the story. NOTE: I ended up giving Sea of Poppies 5 stars and, yes, it made my official Top Ten list for 2011.

From my thread...

"It was now that Deeti understood why the image of the vessel had been revealed to her that day, when she stood immersed in the Ganga: it was becaue her new self, her new life, had been gestating all this while in the belly of this creature, this vessel that was the Mother-Father of her new family, a great wooden mai-bap, an adoptive ancestor and parent of dynasties yet to come: here she was, the Ibis.

Book No. 122: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. 4.7 stars.

This book could have easily garnered 5 stars from me. I really loved it, but I wanted to leave room for the 5-star rating for the two books to follow. It is still in my Top Ten books for 2011 and I am eagerly looking ahead to further adventures on the sea.

Sea of Poppies appealed to me on so many levels. It was an excellent historical adventure. It contained suspense combined with a bit of romance. It featured strong women protagonists and a hint of mysticism. The writing captivated me to the point where I almost needed a dose of Dramamine when the Ibis was rolling on the stormy waters. I enjoyed learning about how important opium was to British control of India and also how the Brits encouraged the idea of the caste system to help maintain that control.

Now I can take my life back, but I will miss the characters I've come to know and love in the past week. Excuse the pun, but I'll be adrift for awhile until I land another good book. ;-)

Thanks to Mark, Ferris, and Tina for your excellent comments. I hope others reading this book add their observations as well. In my opinion, Group Reads are never over!

Edit | More

11msf59
Dec 29, 2011, 6:12pm Top

Donna- Thanks for your great thoughts on SOP! I never did review it, Bad Mark, but I hold it in a very special place. And I'm so glad you upped it to 5 stars, right where it belongs.

Tina- I'm glad you are loving it! It's an amazing read!

12benitastrnad
Dec 30, 2011, 7:28pm Top

I am still reading but am only half way through. Too many other activities right now, but I really like this book. I will have more comments in a day or two.

13tututhefirst
Dec 30, 2011, 10:51pm Top

Just finished this fantastic book, and now I'm panting to get to the next one. I really couldn't stop long enough to take notes, just decided to let go and wallow in the gorgeous language, and the wonderful characters. I'm certainly having some love-hate relations with a couple of them, and really want to see how this story progresses.

SPOILER HERE:

I'm sitting here feeling so empty at the thought of those five men in that tiny boat....knowing that unless vol #2 produces some sort of deus ex machina they won't be heard from again. I had such hopes for them, particularly Neel and Ahfat. I was so fascinated with this journey that I went to Google Maps to see where the Mauritus Islands were. There are wicked way out there in the middle of no-where. The voyage reminds me somewhat of Amistad with enslaved people totally at the mercy of a gang of hoodlums who will exercise power any time they can.

I really have to let this settle before I can write a review, but I highly recommend listening to this in addition to reading it. The incredible voice of Phil Gigante the narrator, and his ability to speak the difference languages and dialects really added a dimension of pleasure to the experience.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged us to read this one....it was a very special way to end the reading year.

14Donna828
Dec 31, 2011, 6:07pm Top

I did listen to part of the book, and agree with Tina that PG is a wonderful narrator. And I didn't think audio worked for me. Wrong!

15labfs39
Jan 7, 2012, 12:09am Top

I finally found the time to finish it today. I've got to find River of Smoke asap. Sorry, Mark, there is no way I can wait! What an ending.

Ferris, you have done such a fabulous job of sharing some of the best passages with us, and your reactions to them. Here's one I would like to add to your list:

Whatever the case, he saw now that it was a rare, difficult and improbable thing for two people from worlds apart to find themselves linked by a tie of pure sympathy, a feeling that owed nothing to the rules and expectations of others. He understood also that when such a bond comes into being, its truths and falsehoods, its obligations and privileges, exist only for the people who are linked by it, and then in such a way that only they can judge the honour and dishonour of how they conduct themselves in relation to each other.

I think the passage is one of the key themes to the whole book. Although written about the relationship between Zachary and Serang Ali, the passage also applies so well to Neel and Ah Fatt. It also describes Zachary and Paulette, Munia and Jadu, Deeti and Kalua, and so many others. Each crosses a boundary of race, class, caste, gender, or geographic/cultural differences in order to embrace the Other.

The ability to create community from the Tower of Babel that exists on the Ibis is a beautiful message of hope for the rest of us.

16labfs39
Jan 7, 2012, 7:07pm Top

And here's my official review using the quote above:



1. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Whatever the case, he saw now that it was a rare, difficult and improbable thing for two people from worlds apart to find themselves linked by a tie of pure sympathy, a feeling that owed nothing to the rules and expectations of others. He understood also that when such a bond comes into being, its truths and falsehoods, its obligations and privileges, exist only for the people who are linked by it, and then in such a way that only they can judge the honour and dishonour of how they conduct themselves in relation to each other.

Sea of Poppies is a novel about relationships that cross boundaries, such as those of race, caste, class, religion, or crossing the line and "going native". The figurative and literary vehicle that facilitates many of these crossings is the Ibis. People of all persuasions are drawn to journey on the Ibis, and at first they seem as unlikely shipmates as could be. But through the course of the book, the first in a trilogy, relationships develop that transcend the social boundaries, conventions, and even laws that separate them. Individuals themselves also change in ways that cross boundaries: a man thought to be Black in America, becomes a white sahib in India; another person undergoes a spiritual transformation that alters his physical body to resemble that of a woman.

The book is characterized by motion and by change. The first character we are introduced to, Deeti, profoundly alters her caste and tribe, as well as her status as a wife and mother, in her journey to the Ibis. Another, Zachary, is a master at creating relationships regardless of his or others' social and racial status. It's almost as though he doesn't see the boundaries which are so apparent to everyone else. As the characters flow together toward the Ibis and out to sea, those who are incapable of change are left behind in some manner.

All this movement and change is also reflected in the setting. India is under British rule, and their entire economy and way of life has been changed by the British desire to trade in opium. Fields of foodstuffs are forcibly converted to growing opium. Villagers starve, and the lucky ones become dependent on the British either by growing and selling opium for them or by working as near slaves in the opium processing plants. Addiction becomes rampant among the Indian workers. The British even manipulate the caste system for their own ends. Things are changing for the British as well. The demand for opium in China is falling, due to recent opium bans by the Chinese, causing a growing financial crisis for the business owners and for the British crown. Inexorably the British move toward a war with China.

I found this book fascinating on so many levels. The author thoroughly researched the hybrid languages of the time and skillfully allows them to wash over the reader without causing the reader to become bogged down. I listened to a portion of the book on audio and enjoyed hearing the accents and cadences, but preferred reading it so that I could savor and reread, which increased my reading enjoyment. I did not use the chrestomathy, purportedly created by one of the characters, at the end of the book as a glossary, although I did read most of it for its own sake. When I unexpectedly reached the end of the book (the chrestomathy takes up the last forty plus pages), I wanted to immediately begin reading River of Smoke, the second in the trilogy. I am invested in the characters, intrigued by the story, and left wanting more. Amitav Ghosh is an author whose books are now destined for my must-read list.

17labfs39
Jan 7, 2012, 7:15pm Top

Here is another quote that sums up a major theme:

"Is it your implication that no good will come of this expedition?"

"Oh it will, sir; there's no denying that." Captain Chillingworth's words emerged very slowly, as if they had been pulled up from a deep well of bitterness. "I am sure it will do a great deal of good for some of us. But I doubt I'll be of that number, or that many Chinamen will. The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. 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."

18benitastrnad
Jan 8, 2012, 5:34pm Top

I too noticed that quote and marked it in my book. I think it is very important to the story. Fabulous review.

I do have to say that I don't usually notice pidgeon or dialect when reading but I did notice it in this book, and have to admit that I found it somewhat distracting. At first I just ignored it, but in doing so I think I am missing some of the story. If I were to change anything in this book I would wish that the author could find a way to give me the flavor without the harassment of trying to decode it in order to make meaning of what is said. I also thought that perhaps the author was using it as a way to convey that the difficulties of crossing boundaries are not only physical but found in language, so am staying with the reading knowing that there are parts of the story I am missing.

19labfs39
Jan 8, 2012, 11:05pm Top

I'm not sure you are missing anything. Afterall, how many of his readers are fluent in so many languages, dialects, and historical jargons? Rather than attempting to decode it, I just accepted it as part of what the characters themselves were dealing with - how to communicate with each other. I also gradually realized that the jargon-laden passages weren't key to the plot. They were either sailing orders or slang for body parts and sexual activities. Does it really matter if *^% means @%&- when it comes to swearing? Anyway, that was my take.

20benitastrnad
Jan 9, 2012, 5:29pm Top

Perhaps my reaction is much like those who are afraid of what "those people" are saying when they speak in another language. I think that the fear of what another is saying in a language that you can't understand is that you are afraid they are talking about you. Most likely they are, but generally that doesn't bother me. However, in this book I am finding it annoying because I sense that it isn't that important to the story, so my question then becomes "Why include it?"

21gennyt
Jan 9, 2012, 6:39pm Top

It's a while since I read the book (back in May/June last year, I think) but I seem to remember that in most of the various kinds of dialect we are exposed to, the general sense came across fairly clearly, even if the specific vocabulary was unfamiliar. Was there a tendency for the unfamiliar words to be mainly nouns and adjectives rather than verbs? I may be mis-remembering that, but the impression I retain is that the sense of the action being spoken of was usually quite clear, but the precise nature of the particular items of clothing, or of food, or particular job titles being referred to, was left to one's imagination.

22benitastrnad
Jan 12, 2012, 6:59pm Top

I finished this book last night and found it an interesting but not compelling read for me. I do want to read the second in this series, as now I want to find out what happens to these people and how the poppy seeds play into the story, but unless we have a group read, it won't be at the top of my to-read list.

I know that the author is trying to write a big epic and I think that he largely succeeds, but somehow for me it fell a little flat. This is a story that needs to be told I just wish it hadn't taken so long to gather steam.

Even though I found the use of the pidgeon and dialect annoying at times I also thought that this book showed commanding mastery of language - of all kinds. The amount of research that this author had to do is amazing. In general I find that the caliber of writing that is coming out of India is outstanding. This is not the first Indian written book I have read and getting that viewpoint out in such a grand manner is certainly an impressive accomplishment. Even though this is not the best book I read this year it is a book that I will recommend to others for several reasons. The grand writing is only one.

23benitastrnad
Edited: Jan 14, 2012, 3:44pm Top

I couldn't help but think about SOP when I heard the news this week of the U. S. Marines urinating on the bodies of the dead insurgents. I thought that I was reading something straight out of the plot of this book. I know that this is a humiliating act in any religion, but I also wonder if there isn't some added stigma to this act in the Hindu and the Muslim religions. Does anybody know? I suspect that it has to do with caste and keeping oneself clean above clean so as not to loose caste, but since I am not well versed in those religions I am having a hard time making the connections. The passages in the book where Neel "loses" his caste were very powerful writing and I know had to with contact with bodily functions. Also, Nob Kissin, seems to me to be overly concerned with "purging" his body and his bodily functions as well. From the accounts of these two men as written in the books I am lead to believe that there is something I am missing here that is also connected to the incident with the U. S. Marines. Can somebody help me out?

I am tempted to think that this just has to do with power and power over a persons body and thought of this passage while writing and spent some time looking it up in the book. "... men do what their power permits them to do. 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." (this is on page 257 of the paper back version of the book.)

One last comment about this book that has nothing to do with power and men's behavior - I had a paper back copy of the book and it felt so good. By that I mean, the literal tactical feel of the book cover and pages. The cover had some kind of satiny smooth feel to it. The pages did also. It did not have that rough cheap paper feel of the normal paperback. It was simply a wonderful paperback to hold. The colors of the cover were also notable. So appropriate and evocative of a thing, orange poppies, and a culture, India with the orange and turquoise. Picador, the publisher of my edition, should be congratulated on this attention to detail.

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