Book Review: Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh

Title: Sea of Poppies
Author: Amitav Ghosh
ISBN: 9780312428594
Pages: 560
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Sea of Poppies is the story of several disparate individuals in India, including Zachary, a man who left America in order to escape his fate, Deeti, the wife of an opium farmer, a raj named Neel who will ultimately be brought down by the British, and many more.  All of these people end up together on the Ibis, a ship transporting Indian coolies to work in the Mauritius Islands.

Review:

I first heard about Sea of Poppies when it was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, and I thought it sounded fascinating.  I don’t know a lot about this time period in Indian and Asian history and I was eager to learn and really take this book in.

The setting of Sea of Poppies is in India in 1838, which is on the eve of the Opium Wars between Britain and China.  Indeed, opium farming is central to this novel.  Ghosh explores what the British-mandated conversion of regular crop fields to poppy fields did in India and the harm it caused the native people.  There is a lot of social exploration and commentary within this book’s pages, and it’s handled very well.  From caste issues to widow burnings, Ghosh isn’t afraid to take on serious problems within Indian society and explore them fully.

I also loved how detailed Sea of Poppies was with history.  Ghosh clearly researched this time period fully, inserting enough detail to allow the reader to see the scenes in their mind.  He depicts life in the 1830’s masterfully, from village to city life to life on a ship.  Ghosh’s elegant writing also contributes to his ability to vividly portray scenes just through his words.  The style of the novel is simply beautiful; it is grand and lush, a real achievement.

There were times when Sea of Poppies was a difficult read.  This is not a book to be rushed.  Its prose is meant to be savored, its issues meant to be contemplated, its characters meant to be explored.  I would not recommend reading this novel if you are going to try to read it cover to cover in one sitting.  Instead, you should read slowly, digesting each individual word as you go.  It’s not a book you can read quickly, even if you want to.

I very much enjoyed Sea of Poppies and am thrilled that it is the first in a trilogy.  I really liked getting to know the characters, as Ghosh drew them masterfully, and cannot wait to revisit them in future volumes.

Comments

  1. I have wanted to read this too since the time i heard it was shortlisted.

    But the volume 🙁
    Hopefully I will get around reading this one soon 🙂

  2. I have wanted to read this too since the time i heard it was shortlisted.

    But the volume 🙁
    Hopefully I will get around reading this one soon 🙂

  3. I didn’t realize Sea of Poppies was the first of a trilogy! I’m behind on my Booker reading, but I’ve had this one on my radar for quite some time. I’m interested in that time period too, so I’ll have to move this one up my list!

  4. I didn’t realize Sea of Poppies was the first of a trilogy! I’m behind on my Booker reading, but I’ve had this one on my radar for quite some time. I’m interested in that time period too, so I’ll have to move this one up my list!

  5. I have heard of Sea of Poppies but never read about it. Now I’m intrigued and will add it to my ever-growing tbr pile.

  6. I have heard of Sea of Poppies but never read about it. Now I’m intrigued and will add it to my ever-growing tbr pile.

  7. I absolutely loved this book – glad you also enjoyed it, Swapna! I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy – wish it would come out soon!

  8. I absolutely loved this book – glad you also enjoyed it, Swapna! I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy – wish it would come out soon!

  9. It’s so wonderful to see a good review of this book. I loved it, too. I agree with you that it takes time to get into, but once I was into it, I was utterly hooked, and I can’t wait until the next book! (I understand Ghosh has no intention of hurrying, though, so it might be years away, alas.)

  10. It’s so wonderful to see a good review of this book. I loved it, too. I agree with you that it takes time to get into, but once I was into it, I was utterly hooked, and I can’t wait until the next book! (I understand Ghosh has no intention of hurrying, though, so it might be years away, alas.)

  11. I got all excited because I thought I had this book, but I don’t. 🙁 It sounds like just the kind of book I love.

  12. I got all excited because I thought I had this book, but I don’t. 🙁 It sounds like just the kind of book I love.

  13. I dol love some good prose that has to be savored. I will look for this ne. I have a challenge to finish. LOL

  14. I dol love some good prose that has to be savored. I will look for this ne. I have a challenge to finish. LOL

  15. I read Glass Palace and loved it so I am looking forward to this one. I also found Glass Palace a little hard to get into at first but once I did I was captivated. Thanks for this review.

  16. I read Glass Palace and loved it so I am looking forward to this one. I also found Glass Palace a little hard to get into at first but once I did I was captivated. Thanks for this review.

  17. This is on my list to read this summer, and I can’t wait. I even like the fact that you mentioned that it’s not a fast read. I’m ready! Thanks for the review. Now I’m excited again to get to it over my break. 🙂

  18. This is on my list to read this summer, and I can’t wait. I even like the fact that you mentioned that it’s not a fast read. I’m ready! Thanks for the review. Now I’m excited again to get to it over my break. 🙂

  19. I don’t know anything about that period in history, so I’m intrigued. Thanks for the review!

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  20. I don’t know anything about that period in history, so I’m intrigued. Thanks for the review!

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  21. I wish I had this one on my shelf right now! I have another by Amitav Ghosh and I’d pick it up next if I didn’t have so many other books to read right now.

  22. I wish I had this one on my shelf right now! I have another by Amitav Ghosh and I’d pick it up next if I didn’t have so many other books to read right now.

  23. This sounds excellent and a good one for audio (I’ll have to look for it) because audio forces you to hear every word — no rushing or skimming ahead.

  24. This sounds excellent and a good one for audio (I’ll have to look for it) because audio forces you to hear every word — no rushing or skimming ahead.

  25. I know absolutely nothing about the Opium Wars, but given my fascination with the 19th century I’m sure I’d love to read about them – and I think I’d love this book too. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I remember hearing of it back when it was shortlisted, but I’d forgotten about it in the meantime.

  26. I know absolutely nothing about the Opium Wars, but given my fascination with the 19th century I’m sure I’d love to read about them – and I think I’d love this book too. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I remember hearing of it back when it was shortlisted, but I’d forgotten about it in the meantime.

  27. Must be an enjoyable read Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by “to read” list.

  28. Must be an enjoyable read Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by “to read” list.

  29. I am reading it now and it is great. But tell me, how did you manage to get the meaning of most of the words. 😉

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