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Sea of Poppies (2008)

by Amitav Ghosh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Ibis Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,6551394,004 (3.96)2 / 689
"At the heart of this vibrant saga is an immense ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight China's vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, 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. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure embraces the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the crowded backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive-- a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists"--Summary from publisher's web site.… (more)
  1. 80
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (booklove2)
    booklove2: Very similar in writing style and general events.
  2. 50
    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 30
    The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh (Booksloth)
  4. 20
    The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (suniru)
  5. 10
    The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (gennyt)
  6. 00
    Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (wandering_star)
  7. 00
    Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (jigarpatel)
    jigarpatel: Appreciated by the Booker prize, Sacred Hunger (1992 winner) and Sea of Poppies (2008 finalist) are powerful and well-researched indictments of British imperial trade interests. They explore slave and opium trade routes respectively, combining adventure with multi-threaded plots and sensitive characterisation.… (more)
  8. 00
    Barkskins by Annie Proulx (JoEnglish)
  9. 00
    Ship Of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter (Limelite)
    Limelite: A panorama of representative characters sail on ocean voyages in allegorical novels set on the eve of great historical events.
  10. 00
    River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (sturlington)
    sturlington: The sequel to Sea of Poppies.
  11. 00
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (mcenroeucsb)
  12. 00
    Raj by Gita Mehta (mcenroeucsb)
  13. 00
    Ten Cities That Made an Empire by Tristram Hunt (wandering_star)
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» See also 689 mentions

English (127)  Italian (5)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (2)  Catalan (2)  Vietnamese (1)  French (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
This is a well-written and paced historical novel with many threads that tie the parts of the story together. This is not only ambitious but also heartbreaking and thrilling to read. I look forward to teading the rest of Ghosh's trilogy. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
Time Period, Characters, Language, and Storytelling Combine for a Great Read

There are four main reasons why Amitov Ghosh’s “Sea of Poppies” is an excellent book: the time period, the characters, the language, and storytelling.

The book takes place in 1839. Although the Opium Wars are mentioned only in passing, it is their coming that sets the book in motion. All the characters’ lives revolve around opium in one way or another, whether it is growing poppies, working in processing factories, owning the land in which the poppies are grown, or running the trading companies that move opium into China. This is a time period and setting rarely explored in fiction. The story takes place on Ganges and Hooghly Rivers before moving to the Bay of Bengal. Historically, this is clearly an important region in world politics, but I know little about it.

The characters are all real and believable. They are all strangely and plausibly pulled into one another’s lives. They span a diverse gamut: from an American carpenter whose mother was a slave to lower caste Hindus, from colonial entrepreneurs to sailors of murky origins. Even when their backgrounds are shown in the narrative, many of the characters remain mysterious.

The language of the book is just beautiful. Ghosh mixes any number of foreign languages along with period words and slang to keep the book moving. Using context clues, it is very easy to see what each word or phrase means. The language serves to give the book color and depth. It is not necessary to understand every single word, although it is possible, because the characters always act in character, with logic according to their situation.

Lastly, the storytelling is spellbinding. It is cliché to say that Ghosh “weaves” storylines together, but he does. He runs with one storyline and only in its last paragraph does the reader realize the connection with another story or character. This is artful, modern, and very poetic.

I have recently tried to branch out and read more fiction. Ghosh shows exactly why I should be reading more fiction. I look forward to reading the next two books in this series. ( )
  mvblair | Aug 9, 2020 |
learned a lot of English-Indian-Chinese history behind the Opium Wars in the 1800s. great character development. will definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy.

( )
  aabtzu | May 18, 2020 |
Wonderful panoramic saga of a book with, clearly, an enormous amount of detailed research, that has changing tones or colours as it weaves itself through the lives of the many different characters. There is one scene in which one of the characters is flying kites with his son. The family take their kites seriously and describe the different types of wind in terms of colours. What mattered to them most "was the pattern of a kite's flight and or not it matched the precise shade and mood of the wind. ... a strong steady breeze was 'neel', blue; a violent nor'easter was purple, and a listless puff was yellow.". The lightness and darkness, hope and despair are extreme throughout. Lives are ripped apart and rebuilt and survival in the face of astonishing hardship is a central theme.

The setting is 1830s India and provides a clear account of the role of the opium trade, its value to the British Empire, the impact on people's lives and the hierarchies that existed across all the layers of society, both local and colonial.

Ghosh executes all this so well, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that this isn't just a work of fiction, but one that stretches plausibility to breaking point to create a very enjoyable and entertaining read. ( )
  peterjt | Feb 20, 2020 |
The writing is good, and the author has clearly done a hell of a lot of research. But the cartoonish villains, criminally boring protagonists, slower-than-molasses plot with a flair for soap opera-esque melodrama, and seriously annoying dialect makes this book a long hard slog. ( )
  miri12 | May 31, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amitav Ghoshprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gobetti, NormanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nadotti, AnnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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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?
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"At the heart of this vibrant saga is an immense ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight China's vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, 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. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure embraces the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the crowded backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive-- a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists"--Summary from publisher's web site.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Raja et coolies
Se retrouvent tous sur l'Ibis
Cap sur l'Ile Maurice
(Tiercelin)

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