Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sea of Poppies

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh I chose to read this because I enjoyed The Glass Palace. This time the story occurs on the brink of the Opium War, 1839-1842. A wide variety of characters appear to travel on the Ibis and like Glass Palace, the narrative shifts to follow each in turn.

Summary: There is a ship called Ibis sailing to China. People from many different walks of life with secrets to spare find their way on it.

I did have some problems with this book. First the sailors speak in an odd mix of languages-I recognized some English but for the most part I could not understand it. I was still able to follow the story but it detracted from my enjoyment. The shifts in perspective could be annoying when it focused on a character I didn't like (Paulette) but I enjoyed it in both Glass Palace and here. I also felt the ending was rushed-apparently this is part of a trilogy which is good because this ending would be incredibly unsatisfactory in wrapping up the story. I actually think the book could have been a bit longer to pace out the ending better.

I'm going to talk about each character in turn with MILD SPOILERS so skip to the overall if you don't want to know.
Deeti-is an Indian woman of high caste married to an opium addict; after he dies, she flees his lecherous brother with Kalua, a big man who is disdained by the community. As they run, they marry, they enlist as workers to travel on the ship, she becomes pregnant, and he has to abandon ship to avoid being killed.
Zachary Reid-my favorite character; he's a mulatto who joined the ship to leave behind poor opportunities in America. He is fitted out to become a proper gentleman by Serang Ali, a former pirate and the leader of the ship's crew.
Paulette is a Frenchwoman whose father had lately died leaving her at the mercy of the Europeans of the city; she ends up disguising herself as an elderly Indian and enlists on the Ibis; unfortunately she and Zachary like each other (I think he could do a lot better than this annoying girl).
Baboo Nob Kissin was an odd character to me; he is a devout man who believes he is possessed by the spirit of his now dead religious patron Taramony-I do not entirely understand where Ghosh is going with this story nor do I understand the religious practices being performed.
Ah Fatt is a recovering opium addict and prisoner on the Ibis along with Neel, a former Raja whose lands have been taken by greedy Englishmen (Yes, he was not a good manager of his estate and nor was his father but it's the calculations of the colonists that really doom I think).

Overall: I would rate this 4 out of 5 due to my difficulties with the language and the abrupt ending but also for an enjoyable time, for sparking my interest in the Opium War, and for promising two books to come.

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