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Sea of Poppies [Paperback]

Amitav Ghosh
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

16 April 2009

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.

In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. 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 spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive - a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists.

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Sea of Poppies + River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy 2) + The Shadow Lines
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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (16 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719568978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719568978
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Sea of Poppies Boasts a varied collection of characters to love and hate, and provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of opium production ... utterly involving and piles on tension until the very last page' -- Peter Parker, Sunday Times 'A glorious babel of a novel ... marvellously inventive ... utterly involving ... The next volume cannot come too soon' -- Sunday Times 'An utterly involving book' -- Sunday Times 'This is a panoramic adventure story, with a Dickensian energy and scope' -- Sunday Telegraph 'Ghosh's narrative is enriched with a wealth of historical detail ... as well as intricate characterisation that makes interaction among the diverse group truly absorbing' -- The Times 'There can be fewer more exciting settings for a novel than a sea-tossed sailing ship ... Ghosh piles detail upon detail in a rumbustical adventure' -- The Times 'Ripping post-colonial yarn ... Ghosh spins a fine story with a quite irresistible flow, breathing exuberant life ... an absorbing vision' -- Guardian 'A remarkably rich saga' -- Observer 'Each scene is boldly drawn, but it is the sheer energy and verve of Amitav Ghosh's storytelling that binds this ambitious medley' -- Daily Mail 'This is a corker' -- Spectator 'Ghosh turns the ship into something robustly, bawdily and indelibly real ... a plot of Dickensian intricacy' -- New York Times 'A master of fiction' -- Economist 'A richly drawn cast of characters ... gilded with expertly-mined historical detail' -- Sunday Business Post 'The fantastic Anglo-Asian language they speak is infectious, and the sombre yet uncertain conclusion leaves one eager for the second novel in the trilogy' -- Daily Telegraph 'A captivating cast ... Ghosh's saga is enriched with a blizzard of Laskari- and Hindi-derived words that add irrepressible energy to the narrative' -- Metro 'Beautifully written, this totally absorbing novel will leave you eagerly awaiting a second instalment' -- She Magazine

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2008: a stunningly vibrant novel from Amitav Ghosh.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Energetic, ambitious and immensely moving...... 15 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Addictive, as in the title 6 July 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was attracted to buy this book through prior knowledge of the author, an interest in India and its history, and a professional interest in the subject of the title. Recognising that this was volume 1 of a trilogy, I realised there would be a lot of scene setting with characters establishing themselves. I thought this might be heavy going but I was wrong. I enjoyed the stories and the backgrounds that lead to them all being on the ship, the Ibis on their way to Mauritius. Throughout this wafted the sheer unpleasantness of life, the smells, the violence, the prejudice and the struggles that so many had had to overcome. Inevitably the main characters stand out as survivors with hidden depths that emerge over time. Perhaps a bit 2 dimensional as this stage.

Amitav Ghosh has done a huge amount of research into the background of life 200 years ago in India and this is reflected in the use of the vernacular languages of the time - seafaring talk, colonial English, a multitude of Indian words etc. On the one hand this was difficult to manage at first and I kept looking for a glossary (it would need to have been about 20 pages!). However, as I got used to it I found myself able to understand a lot more. My lack of understanding often matched the characters lack of comprehension of what was being said to them. Overall this mixture of language added to the flavour of the book but could be off-putting some.

It was a fast, engrossing read for me, with an unexpected cliff-hanger at the end and I am looking forward to the next instalment. I recommend it.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but disappointing end 20 Sep 2009
By Eenymo
It took me a relatively long time to get into this book, ie until about 1/3 of the way through it. Then I became engrossed and couldn't put it down until the end. What made me not want to put it down, however, was that all the way through there were references as to how the journey ends for the characters, and I became more and more curious to find out what would happen to them. But, really disappointingly, by the end of the book you are no further forward as to how the characters' story ends! Having read a couple of the reviews on here I have since found out it is the first of a series to come...Although I will now look out for the next book, I was left with a very disappointed feeling having reached the end.
Another thing which I found frustrating about it was not being able to understand the language used by some of the characters, and found myself quite frustrated at not being able to understand a lot of what they were all saying throughout the book (although you can guess some of it, I had to just give up trying to guess a lot of it and skip over whole sentences).
All in all I thought it was a good story, apart from these 2 things which I found really annoying.
If you are the kind of person who likes to know the end of a story instead of being left wondering, I wouldn't recommend this book until the sequels have all been published, so that you can get them straight away afterwards...
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stage setter 14 Feb 2009
There are many very good reviews on this book already. My take on it? I liked it enough to be on the look out for part 2 in the trilogy, but that is also its main setback. On the whole, this first book is too much of a 'stage setter'. It doesn't feel very much as a finished work, but as a beautifully crafted door to an as yet unfinished building.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars children of the ship 1 Sep 2008
The last sea-faring trilogy I read was William Golding's To The Ends Of The Earth (made up of Rites of Passage, Close Quarters and Fire Down Below). Ok, it's the only sea-faring trilogy I've read but I really enjoyed it. Sacred Hunger, which shared the Booker Prize in 1992 with Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (what a year!), is another fantastic maritime narrative so I had high hopes for the first instalment of Amitav Ghosh's projected trilogy; would I be left in the doldrums or with wind in my sails?

The setting is an interesting one: the Indian subcontinent in the 1830's finds the British East India Company exerting their influence through the trade in opium. Ghosh shows us the effects of this trade immediately through Deeti whose husband, as well as working in the local opium factory, is also an acknowledged addict or 'afeemkhor'. In a great set piece we are guided through the processing of opium as a distressed Deeti runs through the factory to find her husband. Soon she is widowed and in order to avoid the attentions of her brother in law is prepared to place herself on her husband's funeral pyre. It is a fate she will be rescued from and as she and her rescuer Kalua, a gentle giant, run from the pursuing funeral party they become the first of many who find themselves heading towards a ship, the Ibis.

Ghosh assembles a varied cast covering the wide spectrum of nationalities, castes and background that his colonial setting provides. A fallen aristocrat, an opium addict and a freed slave are just a few of the characters whose fate is tied up with the Ibis and the slow, inevitable progress of the characters towards her is like the flowing of tributaries into a river, growing and developing as they move until combined, they head out together to sea.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good holiday read
I enjoyed this book and now want to read the rest of the trilogy.
Published 6 days ago by Glenda A. Kemp
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy customer
Very good service and as described.
Published 27 days ago by Mrs. Gm Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good quality
Published 1 month ago by sue thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars good book
A jolly good read with lots of story lines running through the book. Ordered the second part of the series and well into this book.
Published 2 months ago by yogamichele
3.0 out of 5 stars Usual high standard of research but had problems following the...
I'm not good at reading dialogue when its written phonetically. The slang spoken by the crew of the ships is written as it would have sounded, a kind of pigeon (?) English. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sunset27
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Despite the translation oddities, this is a thoroughly good read. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel in due course.
Published 7 months ago by gordon f
4.0 out of 5 stars Sea of Poppies
Sea of poppies
Love the environment and characters and the detail given to the action. I also think the history of the opium trade is very interesting.
Published 7 months ago by lindsey evans
1.0 out of 5 stars Abandoned
I started to read this three years ago and it has loitered on my unfinished books pile ever since. I managed about half, as the readable chapters were quite enjoyable, but then I'd... Read more
Published 8 months ago by DubaiReader
1.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
Very disappointing. The large tracts of dialect (which add nothing to the story) made for very heavy going, and rather limited one-dimensional characters failed to encourage me to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by AFP
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing chronicle of India and the opium trade
I hadn't really known what to expect from this novel since I hadn't heard of the author before. This is an atmospheric novel set in the early 1800s when the West is looking to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by caro
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