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Sea of Poppies: A Novel (The Ibis Trilogy) Paperback – September 29, 2009

267 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Ibis Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Diaspora, myth and a fascinating language mashup propel the Rubik's cube of plots in Ghosh's picaresque epic of the voyage of the Ibis, a ship transporting Indian girmitiyas (coolies) to Mauritius in 1838. The first two-thirds of the book chronicles how the crew and the human cargo come to the vessel, now owned by rising opium merchant Benjamin Burnham. Mulatto second mate Zachary Reid, a 20-year-old of Lord Jim–like innocence, is passing for white and doesn't realize his secret is known to the gomusta (overseer) of the coolies, Baboo Nob Kissin, an educated Falstaffian figure who believes Zachary is the key to realizing his lifelong mission. Among the human cargo, there are three fugitives in disguise, two on the run from a vengeful family and one hoping to escape from Benjamin. Also on board is a formerly high caste raj who was brought down by Benjamin and is now on his way to a penal colony. The cast is marvelous and the plot majestically serpentine, but the real hero is the English language, which has rarely felt so alive and vibrant. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Ghosh�s best and most ambitious work yet is an adventure story set in nineteenth-century Calcutta against the backdrop of the Opium Wars. On the Ibis, a ship engaged in transporting opium across the Bay of Bengal, varied life stories converge. A fallen raja, a half-Chinese convict, a plucky American sailor, a widowed opium farmer, a transgendered religious visionary are all united by the �smoky paradise� of the opium seed. Ghosh writes with impeccable control, and with a vivid and sometimes surprising imagination: a woman�s tooth protrudes �like a tilted gravestone�; an opium addict�s writhing spasms are akin to �looking at a pack of rats squirming in a sack�; the body of a young man is �a smoking crater that had just risen from the ocean and was still waiting to be explored.�
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: The Ibis Trilogy (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312428596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428594
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (267 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

152 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Aleksandra Nita-Lazar on October 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When the former slaving ship, the Ibis, sails off from America to India, Zachary Reid enlists as a ship's carpenter to escape his American fate as a son of a freed slave girl and her master. Little does he know, how much his life will actually be transformed by this decision...

The year is 1838, and Asia is on the eve of the Opium Wars. The fates of several people become intertwined, as they make their way onto the Ibis. Deeti is a peasant who grows crops of opium, and a wife of the opium factory worker, addicted to the drug. When her husband dies, grey-eyed Deeti has to escape the attention of her vicious brother-in-law. Her only idea is the sati - but unexpectedly, she is snatched from the funeral pyre and becomes an outcast together with her savior, Kalua, the village strongman from the caste of untouchables. They decide to become indentured workers ("coolies") and seek their happiness in the Mauritius. Paulette Lambert, the daughter of a French botanist, is orphaned and cannot bear the strange behavior of Mr Burnham (who happens to be the owner of Ibis), and his family, when he takes her under his protective roof. Neel Rattan, the Raja, finds himself unable to adjust to the changing ways of the colonial world, and, bankrupt, is send to exile. In jail, he meets the half-Chinese Ah Fatt, convicted for robbery. Baboo Nob Kissin (the funniest and probably the most tragic of the main characters), the company's accountant, filled with religious spirit, is overcome by the need of establishing a shrine. All of these original, hilarious characters come to see the overseas trip as an escape. And so their journey is the new beginning.
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(4.5 stars) When the Ibis, a "blackbirder," leaves Calcutta and sets out across the Bay of Bengal carrying "indentured migrants," the seas darken and become stormy. As the ship tosses and conditions deteriorate, the ship becomes a microcosm for life on land, full of tumult and unexpected twists of fate, as each person's heart is laid bare. Everybody aboard is escaping from something, so anxious to put their problems behind them that they see no choice but to submit to the atrocious living conditions and sometimes sadistic overseers.

Set in India in 1838, at the outset of the three-year Opium War between the British and the Chinese, this epic novel follows several characters from different levels of society who become united through their personal lives aboard the ship and, more generally, through their connections to the opium and slave trades. Deeti Singh, married as a young teenager to a man whose dependence on opium makes him an inadequate husband and provider, is forced to work on the family's opium field outside Ghazipur by herself, though she fears her sadistic brother-in-law. Zachary Reid, a young sailor from Baltimore has left America because his status as an octoroon has led to constant harassment by other American sailors.

At the opposite end of the scale is Benjamin Burnham, who owns the Ibis and engages in the opium trade. Formerly a slave trader, Burnham now transports exiled prisoners and coolies, and he has acquired enormous wealth and a lavish lifestyle impossible for him in England. Among his acquaintances is Raja Neel Rattan Halder, the zemindar of Raskali, who, accustomed to the unimaginable opulence that upper caste Brahmins assume is their right by birth, has paid little attention to his dwindling resources, and he has now accumulated debts.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on November 5, 2008
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It's good to hear (though it's unconfirmed,) that "Sea of Poppies," is part one of a projected trilogy, because although it's a beautifully styled (I'd say extravagantly written,) completely engaging, well researched work of historical fiction, it closes without a satisfactory end. Three stars as a stand-alone, (despite its many merits, and because of the ending;) five stars if it is, indeed, installment one.

Beautifully styled - extravagantly written. I've not read other works by Amitav Ghosh, so I'm not familiar with his stylistic strategies, but "The Sea of Poppies," is written with the love of language I've come to expect from Indian novelists. Mr. Ghosh has captured both the English and the "Hing-lish," of the Victorian Age, and enriched it with a delightful and descriptive patois and pidgin. I don't know how much Mr. Ghosh has invented whole cloth, and how much is a result of research, but it's hugely entertaining, and perhaps near genius. Yes, it does leave you slightly at sea in terms of full understanding, but I find that to be part of the charm. (I've nodded my head in befuddlement in many countries.) It reminds me of the language recorded in the Booker Prize winning, Sacred Hunger" by Barry Unsworth, another beautifully written novel about fretful times.

Well researched. Even as a student of India, the scenes and details of "The Sea of Poppies," were new to me.
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