Sea of Poppies

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of Sea of Poppies

Book description

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…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked Sea of Poppies as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I can sum up the book by saying – This guy really knows how to write! 

Sea of Poppies is the first volume of a trilogy. At first, it seems that the author is telling unconnected stories about various people in early nineteenth-century India. But these characters gradually come together to create a compelling epic. The action shifts from India to China, Mauritius, and Singapore. Eventually, the reader finds out that this trilogy is an account of the First Opium War, as seen from the perspective of India. 

Although that war has been largely forgotten in the West, few wars…

Sea of Poppies is the first of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy—an epic of global opium trade that features Zachary Reid, a mixed-race American whose story unfolds as it connects Baltimore to Bengal to Canton across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  

Filled with heartbreak and humor the trilogy invokes Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as Ghosh revives the primary sources of the Old China Trade and brings them into refreshing literary life. 

Ghosh’s novel complements another (very different) gem of historically based literary fiction featuring American involvement in opium smuggling and the ensuing First Opium War: Timothy Mo’s Insular Possession

I am fascinated by the adventure at the heart of Sea of Poppies, set in India in the 1800s, just before the Opium Wars begin. A group of misfits, Indian as well as Western, men as well as women, enemies, and star-crossed lovers, each immensely interesting, run away from their lives and families for fascinating, often heartbreaking reasons. They find themselves on a vast ship, the Ibis, voyaging across the Indian Ocean, hoping to discover a better life. From the lush poppy fields of India to the dangerous alleys of Canton, this book took me on a magical…

From Chitra's list on the many mysteries of India.

This is the first volume of The Ibis Trilogy, three linked historical novels set mainly in India and the Indian Ocean. The author is a trained social anthropologist and occasionally the pace of the novel is interrupted by too much ethnography. However, the characters are engaging, and he deftly penetrates the lives of sailors, colonial administrators, Indian indentured labourers, and opium traders. Much of the action takes place in Mauritius, one of the many places (others include Natal, Fiji, Guyana, and Trinidad) to which Indian workers were taken, thus forming the first Indian diaspora. You don’t need to read…

In his impossible-to-put-down Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, Flood of Fire) Amitav Ghosh uses an obscure historical event most of us have barely heard of, the Opium Wars, to explain the rise — and maybe inevitable fall — of global capitalism. Ghosh both exploded and expanded my appreciation of English’s richness with characters speaking in multiple dialects, yet written with such lucidity that I never had to tear myself away from the mesmerizing plot to consult the glossary (itself fascinating). By the end, the Ibis Trilogy’s vast pageantry turned out to be about far more…

This well-researched vividly written trilogy was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. What many of my countrymen absorbed growing up was the myth of the British Empire as civilising project. Most are unaware that when the vicious and absurdly profitable triangle of trade involving slaves from Africa transported to the Americas and the products of their labour sold in the UK ended, it was replicated in Asia. In the first half of the 19th century, the East India Company embarked on the biggest drug dealing operation the world had ever seen. The new triangle was the UK, (manufactured cotton goods) India…

From Sylvia's list on India recovering its past.

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