Friday, 15 May 2009

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: May 2009 NOTES: Another tremendous piece of storytelling from Ghosh. In Sea of Poppies he brings together a disparate group of characters who all find themselves aboard the Ibis as she sails from the Hoogly River in Calcutta to Mauritius in the 1830s. The Ibis is a “blackbirder” – a ship previously used as part of the slave trade and is now used to transport opium and other supplies to China. But with the Opium Wars looming it is decided to use the ship to take indentured labourers to Mauritius. The opium trade is brilliantly researched and shows us the devastating effect it has on the peasants forced to grow poppies rather than food. Class and caste issues loom large throughout in a society where everyone knows where they stand in the pecking order. Only on the Ibis does this hierarchy break down as the passengers realise that they are (literally) all in the same boat. The narrative moves swiftly and rarely slackens. The story culminates in a real cliffhanger and leaves the reader wanting to know what will happen next. (Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy). The characterisations are strong and vivid although I do feel that some of the things that happen are somewhat far-fetched! Much of the dialogue is bold and bawdy and uses lots of Anglo-Indian and Hindustani terms. This added to the rich brew of this novel although I can understand that others may find it irritating. An energetic, ambitious and immensely moving book.

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