Friday, February 6, 2015

Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy 1) by Amitav Ghosh

Hardback: 533 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: John Murray 2008
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast.
Review Quote: '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
Favourite Quote: “How was it that no one had ever told her that it was not love itself, but its treacherous gatekeepers which made the greatest demands on your courage: the panic of acknowledging it; the terror of declaring it; the fear of being rebuffed? Why had no one told her that love's twin was not hate but cowardice?” 

I enjoy travelling the world via the pages of the novels I read but sadly Amitav  Ghosh failed to capture my full attention with this one. Having just joined another Book Group I was delighted to find that '
Sea of Poppies was the selection for my first meeting. It had been a long time since I read 'The Glass Palace' back in 2006 which I absolutely loved, though as this was before I started writing a blog, no review to refer you to.  
With a diverse cast of characters and great descriptions the readable chapters were fascinating but unfortunately for me that was only about 50% of the novel.  The rest was spoilt by what felt like an overuse of Hindu and Bengali words, there was not even an appendix of translated words in the edition I read, which would have helped tremendously.  As for the many characters the majority of them remained faceless. In fact the only two characters I felt I got to know were Deetie, the widow of an Opium Factory Worker and Paulette the daughter of a French botanist, even with these two protagonists it took me sometime to fix their storyline in place.

At the centre of this immense saga which starts in 1838 and spans the poppy fields in India across the Indian Ocean to the back streets of China, is a sailing ship the Ibis, carrying a diverse collection of passengers from Calcutta to the island of Mauritius. The period is one of colonial upheaval, old family ties are broken and new unlikely dynasties are born that will cross the seas, continents, races and generations. 

In conclusion Sea of Poppies was disappointing and no more than an ok read, that I doubt I would have got very far with had it not been selected for my book club. Having said that I rarely give up once I have started a book, but as this title was published in 2008 and I have not read until I was asked to I think says it all!  I still had no connection with the characters by the time I finished the novel, so therefore doubt I will be picking up the rest of the trilogy. Maybe this is a mistake as the historical background about the Opium Wars was fascinating, so this trilogy will surely appeal to readers that are interested in this period of history.

Author Profile

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta, India on July 11, 1956

He is is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. Sea Poppies, His most recent novel, River of Smoke, is the second volume of the Ibis Trilogy, published in 2010.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexandria and Oxford and his first job was at the Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi. He earned a doctorate at Oxford before he wrote his first novel, which was published in 1986.

The Circle of Reason won the Prix Medicis Etranger, one of France's top literary awards, and The Shadow Lines won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for 1997 and The Glass Palace won the Grand Prize for Fiction at the Frankfurt International e-Book Awards in 2001. The Hungry Tide won the Hutch Crossword Book Prize in 2006. In 2007 Amitav Ghosh was awarded the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Turin, Italy. Amitav Ghosh has written for many publications, including the Hindu, The New Yorker and Granta, and he has served on the juries of several international film festivals, including Locarno and Venice. He has taught at many universities in India and the USA, including Delhi University, Columbia, the City University of New York and Harvard. He no longer teaches and is currently writing the next volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

He is married to the writer, Deborah Baker, and has two children, Lila and Nayan. He divides his time between Kolkata, Goa and Brooklyn.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.


  1. I haven't read any of these books. It's a shame that the words weren't explained. It stops the flow of reading when you are constantly stumped by what's being said.

    1. Yes, An appendix would have helped considerably.


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