The Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
I read this book last year but, as with my To Be Read Pile, my To Be Reviewed Pile is tottering in it’s hugeness!
I didn’t know this author but it came up on a Chunky Book Challenge and so I settled down with anticipation. I was not disappointed. The Sea of Poppies was one of those books where I wished I was young and had no other responsibilities so that I could have read it one hit.
Alas gone are the days.
However, I did, by dint of neglecting a certain amount of boringness, read it in two hits .
India, the Bay of Bengal 1838, just before Great Britain began the first opium War with China.
The main characters:
The Ibis is a transformed slaving schooner, now transporting coolies to work overseas.
The Masters (conquering Europeans) and their design to export opium to flood the Chinese market.
The lowborn and seemingly helpless pawns.
This is a romance in the old-style with sweeping narratives, a huge cast of beautifully crafted characters ranging from the highborn and high caste to the lowest forms of life in India, beautiful, grand and horrific descriptions. All coming together on the ship, The Ibis.
Along the way we learn a great deal about the callous capitalism of the Europeans, especially the British, in their deliberate attempt to flood China, for a fortune, with opium. See the tragedy of addicts. We discover a great deal on the growing and production of opium. New, to me, was the transportation of Indians as indentured workers to the sugarcane fields in Fiji and Mauritius. Through these pages we are introduced to many aspects of life back in 1838 such as food, religion, costumes, marriage and funeral rites. There are new vocabularies to learn as we follow the lives of servants and those that are served, a great deal about plants and. . . and . . . and the list of information is endless.
The research has been extensive and what is fascinating is how, despite the amount of information handed to us, this information load never affects the pace of the story, as it well could do. Neither does it seem jarring or out of place. This is not an easy task, as many authors will testify too, here it has been handled extremely well, the story flows like the River in the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and discovered at the end of my reading that The Sea of Poppies is the first of a trilogy so I’m very happily looking forward to reading the next. Amitav Ghosh is an author I certainly want to read more of.