Saturday, July 19, 2008

Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies

Deeti has this vision of a ship, and a premonition that it will play a role in her life in times to come. How can a simple native woman, bound to her lands and her husband forever suddenly find herself on a ship is something she cannot envision. All she does is to tend to her small farm while her husband works in the opium factory.

Zachary has signed on as a cabin boy but finds himself rising through the ranks rapidly till he is the 2nd mate to the captain. He just wants to do his job honestly and make it in life. He is just a man of mixed colour from Baltimore, but finds himself stamped as a white gentleman.

Paulette is the daughter of a deceased Botanist living on charity. Her benefactors dont know that she is more native than the natives and has a brother too.

Pandit Nob Kissin Pandey is an accountant with a mission. He wants to recreate the world of Krishna and has already sighted a person who is the latest avatar of the Lord.

Raja Neel is lord of all he surveys, but he know how precarious his financial position is. What he does not know is the devious means that can easily be used against him to reduce him to the lowest form of human existence.

Mr. Burnham himself indirectly controlling the destiny of all these people though he is just a merchant who wants to makes profit.

How all these people, including Kalua, Heeru, Munia, Serang Ali, Jodu and many others find themselves abroad the Ibis is what constitues the story.

It is the first in the series of a promised trilogy by Amitav Ghosh. In this novel, he traces the background of his characters and gives us a hint of what to expect in future.

Amitav paints an unhurried picture of his characters, to make us understand them all the better. We are sent back to the times when British were the masters of the world, thanks to their understanding of the seas. However, it is their cunning nature and adaptability that makes them win the game, again and again. They knew how to set up ruses and use their trump cards. They knew how to make a person feel like a king and then .. suddenly throw him down into the deep abyss of sub-human existence.

They knew how to manipulate the seas and the people.

What do I say about the style of Amitav Ghosh. That is smooth and fine as sweet wine? That there is never an extra word, nor a word less? That he uses the language with the finesse of a master? That he is a devious devilish craftsman who can make us see what he sees?

The book - unputdownable. The next in the series - eagerly awaited.


Oxymoronic said...

Wah!!! Maan gaye aakhir aap and gave a go to Amitav. I am his fan and this will surely be soon in my collection (once I get done with pending ones)...

This is what Amitav is all about, Weird names, Intriguing story line, Crisp narrative...

Welcome to the world of Amitav. The guy is awesome..

couchpapaya said...

avdi - am so undecided abt amitav ghosh!! i read the glass palace, and found it terribly slow. have u read that one? is that evocative of his general style ... in which case i know i wont enjoy this one.

tho as usual ur review has me curious and the last para is (almost) enough to make me pick up something else by him. wont pick this one up until the triloy is out tho, if i like something i need to read everything all at once.


avdi said...


Which of his books have you read? I am dying to pick up Calcutta Chromosome.

avdi said...

Papaya .. This is the first Amitav Ghosh I have ever read, and was totally bowled over.

Slow? No..

I picked up this book amid a lot of hesitation, mainly because of the glowing reviews it received. And read the first chapter with trepidition, but no.. I was so taken in by his style of writing, that I just couldnt stop reading.

Oxymoronic said...


I have read these:

The Calcutta Chromosome
The Glass Palace
The Hungry Tide
The Shadow Lines
The Circle Of Reason.

I say pick up 'The Calcutta Chromosome' AND 'The Circle Of Reason'.

S said...

I am scared to touch this author...

Have already burned my fingers with Naipaul & Seth. Besides that I can see Oxy has loves this author then there are chances that am gonna hate him :D

But your review makes me pick not in 2 but 4-5 minds :D dunno whether i can like stories based i this era...lemme ponder more...

WhatsInAName said...

Oh well :)
Even I was in 2 minds about the book. Never tried Amitav, so was wondering whether to go for it.
But now that you have praised it no end, will try it.

Oxymoronic said...


Good.. Better stay away from good authors and stick on to ur chick-lits.. huh

avdi said...

S, What, Oxy,

S, the story goes back to the last days of the Raj, and is very poignant. Even I find Naipaul very boring, but Vikram Seth is something else !

What, I was in two minds about Amitav too. But now that I have picked him up, am not letting him go.

Oxy - hey, to each her own ! If Smita likes light books, its her choice.

S said...

Oye! Oxy,

JTH huh!!!!

couchpapaya said...

avdi - i take it back. just finished re-reading glass palace. v. interesting, an incredible account over a century of colonial india and burma. i think my first impression was since i read it on a plane, have since learned that i cannot read heavy stuff on planes ! and it's not slow at all !!!

avdi said...

Papaya - hmm you make me want to pick up the book as well. This one was going cheap on Next month i will..

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