Sea of Poppies
Do you ever pick up a book and immediately get hit with a wave of skepticism? Such it was with Sea of Poppies , by Amitav Ghosh. I guess maybe part of the problem was that it was really out of my comfort zone. It’s the first book in a trilogy (I swear I read that somewhere but I can’t really find much information about any more books following this one, so I hope I didn’t just make that up!) about an Indian ship called the Ibis that deals mainly in slave trade as well as the trade of opium.
Sea of Poppies introduces a myriad of characters and what is interesting is that it is not apparent right away how each character ties into the next one. Deeti is the character Ghosh introduces first, and she is a strong yet sullen woman living with her young daughter Kabutri, as well as her husband of seven years who works in a large opium factory and is also, coincidentally enough, an opium addict. The reader also comes to know Neel, Paulette, Jodu, and Zachary, among others. Going into a character description of all major characters would take pages. Generally speaking though, I thought Ghosh did a great job with creating sympathetic, well thought out, three dimensional characters. I emphathized with every character, I disagreed with every character . . . not any easy feat for an author to accomplish. The only character I didn’t particularly like at any point in the book was Munia. I would venture to say that she was misunderstood, but, on the other hand, she made some foolish decisions despite the repeated good advice of others. I can’t really put my finger on why I dislike her, regardless of what I just said, simply because she behaves as any normal young girl would—in that sense, she deserves empathy, but for whatever reason she grated on my nerves.
One difficulty I had with the book was the language. It wasn’t necessarily a negative for me, but it still gave me problems. Ghosh uses many dialects that are native to India . Quite a few different Indian languages are used, and while many of the song lyrics and excerpts were followed by their meaning in English, many of the terms used were not followed by the English word or definiteion. Many times the definition of the terms could be understood through the context, but there were many times I was left clueless. There was an extensive glossary in the back but I swear, every time I went to look up a word, it wasn’t there! So how Ghosh chose what to include in the glossary, I will never know.
Quickly after starting Sea of Poppies , I became mesmerized. I would pick it up out of habit, thinking I wasn’t even in the mood to read, and within the first few sentences I’d be sucked back in again. It just goes to show me that I need to take a chance more often. I often think a book is not right for me, only to read a few chapters and realize that, had I not stepped out of my shell, I would never have come across such a gem. I am now eagerly anticipating the second book of the Ibis trilogy—as is to be expected, Sea of Poppies left a lot of questions unanswered and a lot of loose ends, which hopefully will start to come together in the second book.