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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies
By Amitav Ghosh
Completed November 28, 2009


Sea of Poppies was the first book of a new trilogy written by Amitav Ghosh. Set during the Opium Wars between the British Empire and China, it’s the story of a group of international characters who are flung together on a large ship, Ibis, who must cross the Indian Ocean at the beginning of the war.

Ghosh took many pages to set up the back stories of each character who will eventually end up sailing on the Ibis. There’s Zachary, an American freedsman, and Paulette, a French orphan. And Neel, a broke and disgraced raja and Deeti, a widowed Indian villagewoman – all of their stories showed how their personal struggles landed them on a dangerous journey across the sea.

The back of my edition contained a robust glossary, which was extraordinarily helpful as I tried to understand much of the dialogue in this book. Many passages drifted by me like a foreign language, and I had a hard time following the conversations, which proved to be a distraction for me.

Many reviewers have compared Ghosh’s writing style to Dickens, and that’s probably the best description I can muster too. Ghosh introduced a multitude of characters, all centered on some type of struggle. My biggest complaint about Sea of Poppies was the long time it took Ghosh to get his characters on the ship, which was the crux of the story. Considering this is the first book of a trilogy, it’s understandable that Ghosh needed to set up the story. For an impatient reader like me, though, it was hard for me to get into the book. Add in the foreign jargon, and the whole experience felt more like homework than reading. ( )
Tags: 2009 books i've read, early reviewer
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