I’m in this place right now where there are so many good books to choose from that my bed is basically a large nest of books. I changed my sheets on Monday evening, and when I went to bed that night, I realized I’d accidentally trapped one of the books underneath the bottom sheet when I put it on the bed. Were this not the case, I’d have finished Sea of Poppies a good while ago, but there have been many bookish distractions*, and besides, I wanted to make it last.
Eva recently gave Sea of Poppies a glowing review, and since she’s just finished reading (and loving) (of course) (cause it’s very lovable) one of my favorite ever books, I am happy to report that I loved Sea of Poppies. I broke the summer reading rule I made for myself, which was not to read anything while I’m here that I can get when I’m at home. I broke it for Sea of Poppies, and I’m breaking it for the Odyssey as translated by Fagles, on whom I have an epic crush (get it? get it?). Can’t help it. Love boat stories.
Sea of Poppies is the first of three planned books about the Ibis, a ship that sails between India and the Mauritius Island, in the 1830s (just before the Opium Wars, about which I expect to hear much more in successive books). The book deals with a wide and diverse cast of characters, from a pale-skinned son of an American freedwoman, to the widow of a high-caste opium addict, to a French orphan more comfortable with Indian culture than European, to a former Raja now stripped of his lands and title on a trumped-up charge of forgery – and how their fortunes become entangled with each other and with the Ibis.
My favorite thing about Sea of Poppies is the way it portrays class as both immutable and unbelievably fragile. Nearly all of our central characters are transgressors of boundaries, whether by their own choice or by the vagaries of fate. Racial and class distinctions are hugely important to both the Indian and European characters; the dangers faced by (and, to many of the other characters in the story, posed by) our point-of-view characters exist because they do not, or will not, fit the mold. For instance, Zachary is of mixed race, a fact unknown to everyone around him; he dresses like a gentleman and is treated like a gentleman. As a French girl and the ward of a British merchant, Pauline belongs to the “ruling class”; but she was raised by an Indian woman and feels far more comfortable amongst Indians. The interplay between all these characters, and the different places they occupy within society and on the Ibis, makes for fascinating reading.
Which leads to me to my one small complaint. Sea of Poppies, while enthralling because the characters are great and I love all the small, complex dramas that play out along class and racial and gender boundaries for each character, feels very much like the first part of a longer work (which it is, of course). I kept waiting and waiting to see the characters come together and see how they would interact with each other; and when that did happen (about two-thirds of the way through, and in a rather limited way), it was most satisfying. But I wanted more. More! I loved seeing Deeti and Pauline become friends, and Zachary and Jodu a little bit, but I wanted all the characters to be in one spot at one time.
I love to discover new authors, but when I discover them before they have finished writing a series, I am sad to have to wait. This month I have gone from not minding when Megan Whalen Turner’s or Amitav Ghosh’s next book will come out, to minding enormously and with much impatient anticipation. Deeti and Neel are going to be besties (I believe in my heart). Some fool’s going to bring an elephant to awe Gen, and Gen is going to want to steal it (says Megan Whalen Turner). How good will that be?
What other folks thought:
A Striped Armchair
Farm Lane Books Blog
Kiss a Cloud
S. Krishna’s Books
The Boston Bibliophile
A Progressive on the Prairie
Reviews by Lola
So Many Books
The Reading Life
Evening All Afternoon
Tell me if I missed yours!
*Including, oh my God, Monsters of Men. I can’t even tell you how hard I loved that book. I cannot stop thinking about it. I am craving a reread of the whole series now, though I have almost definitely decided to delay gratification until I get home. If you have not read the Chaos Walking series, you should get started on that right now, because after I have let my Mumsy read it, I’m going to do a giveaway of my ARC. I want to spread the joy. There is this one thing that happens in Monsters of Men that is so joyous and the scene is so perfect that I start grinning like an idiot every time I think about it. And then I go reread that scene. I reread it again just now. It was still perfect.
Edit to add: I finally nailed down what it was that kept running vaguely in and out of my head while I was reading this book! It’s that Monty Python sketch about “I say, old man, I’m afraid we don’t understand your banter” – y’all remember that one??
I so happy that you enjoyed this. I agree that it just feels like the beginning of something larger and that the book does take a while to warm up. At least half of it feels like exposition. The exposition is interesting enough, although I did nearly give up at about the midpoint because I was wanting the pieces to come together. But then… then… the characters did start coming together, and it was amazing!
See, I think I was more interested in the individual storylines of the characters than you were. Apart from the guy who thinks Zachary is an avatar of Lord Krisha, I found all the characters fascinating in their own right. But they’re better together.
Oh I was interested in most of the individual storylines. I was just getting impatient for them to get together. Until they did, there wasn’t enough forward momentum for me.
You must not be someone who tosses and turns a lot in there sleep in order to be able to sleep in a bed of books! I love the image though! I’ve heard lots of good things about this book – at some point I will read it!
I really am not. I sleep like the dead. If I have comfy pillows, I lie on my back with my hands at my sides, and I stay that way all night. 🙂
I love reading positive reviews of this book which I also thought amazing! I do think that Ghosh wrote this as part of a larger work … and I am so looking forward to the next two books in this trilogy. Thanks for the linky love 🙂
No problem! Yeah, I think Ghosh is a fantastic writer, and I want to read his entire backlist at some point. I’m going to try to see if I can acquire some of his essays, as well – apparently he’s done essays on all sorts of different topics.
I love the fact that your bed is filled with books 🙂 I used to keep books on my bed, but now have moved them to the table and chairs and some of them have crept to the floor.
Lovely review of ‘Sea of Poppies’! I like the fact that Amitav Ghosh’s brings together many different kinds of people in a ship. The interplay of personalities must be very interesting. It is also interesting that this is the first part of a three part book – I thought only YA books and fantasies have multiple parts. I haven’t read any of the books of Amitav Ghosh till now. Yes, waiting for the second part is hard as you have said – but the silver lining is that one can have the pleasure of anticipation 🙂 I think I will add ‘Sea of Poppies’ to my ‘TBR’ list.
Normally this doesn’t happen! In real life I have a smaller bed and I use the top of a bookshelf as a bedside table, but this apartment is sublet and the bedside table thing is completely occupied by an enormous, confusing alarm clock. So the nest of books is just how things turned out. :p
I hope you do read Sea of Poppies. Or if you don’t fancy being all suspensey for the next books, you could read some of his other work. I know I’ve heard good things about The Glass Palace, for one.
I am so glad you enjoyed Sea of Poppies! It is definitely not a light read but it is so worthwhile.
Yes, it took me a while to get through! I think I’ll appreciate it even more on rereads, just because I’ll be having less trouble with some of the slang.
Argh! Now I want to read this, and the library has lots of available copies, but I’m afraid to start it until there’s at least one more book out, because I neverever (well, almost neverever) enjoy series as much when I have to leave a gap between volumes. Sadness. I’ll keep it on my list, though, for that wonderful day when all the books are out.
Indeed? You don’t enjoy to shiver in an…tici…
I was just talking with my sister about this the other day – I prefer to read a series all in one go, but when I’m forced by circumstance to wait for sequels, I do rather enjoy the wait, and speculating about what’s going to happen, and all that.
The shiver is sometimes–sometimes–tolerable if it’s, like, a week or two, but any longer than that and I start to lose my connection to the story. 😦 That’s why I always try to reread the rest of the series whenever a new one comes out. It’s not always feasible, but when it is, I go for it.
Love the thought of your bed as a nest of books! And trapping one in the sheets is wildly symbolic (although I don’t now of what). I haven’t read this because the thought of the faintly overblown language puts me off. I’m kind of a straight-up and clear sort of gal. But other than that I’ve heard lots of very good reviews.
That’s exactly what I thought! I stared at the lump in my bed for a while trying to figure out what it all said about me, and I couldn’t decide what it was.
The language isn’t all that overblown in terms of the narration. There are a few characters whose dialogue is strewn with weird slang, but I get the impression you’re not meant to understand it. Like Brad Pitt in Snatch.
I’ve got the book-in-the-bed symbolism! To paraphrase St. Augustine, your heart is restless until it rests in a story. (It WAS fiction, I hope? Otherwise, my symbolism limps.)
Fraid not. It was this book about the British women during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
I gave this book as a gift to another reader, but neglected to grab a copy for myself! It sounds like just the type of book I would love, but I also don’t want to start the first book in a series that is not complete yet. I may have to wait to get into these, but I sure did appreciate your review! I am so glad that you had such an amazing time with the book. I am looking forward to it!
It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything! It ends at a reasonable stopping point, I feel. It’s not conclusive, but it’s not going to leave you in agonies of suspense until Amitav Ghosh finishes the second one. I say, read it now! :p
Trapping the books under the covers sounds just like something I would do. There would’ve been much cursing going on if I’d been searching for it in the interim.
Looks like I’m the last person on Earth to read this one, too. Nothing new!
I hadn’t been searching for it, happily. It’s one I haven’t started yet, but it looks so interesting I like to have it nearby in case the other six books I’m reading get dull. So far they, um, haven’t.
Great review. I loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel- though we may have to wait a long time, LOL! thanks for linking to my review as well 🙂
Yeah, I think it’s going to be a while before Ghosh writes the second one. I would imagine these books take a hell of a lot of research.
That’s why I am holding off on Sea of Poppies for now. I really want at least the next book in the series to come out. I really hurt when I have to wait 🙂
I can understand. I’ll probably wait to read the second book until a while after it comes out, so that other people can read it first and tell me if it ends on a cliffhanger. If so I’ll wait until all three are written. I am not a big fan of suspense.
I am almost convinced to give this book a try: something long and epic and sweeping. Except, I am realizing I don’t like series books. I don’t like finishing a book only to find I’m not really done with a story. I don’t want there to be an unwritten epilogue– I just want a book to be complete and satisfying as is….So maybe this isn’t for me.
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I reviewed this book on my blog, too, but didn’t like it nearly as well. I loved your comment about boundaries, by the way. I’m not in a dither about the next installments, though. I’d like to know what happens, but, like you, I have so many other books to read.
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I’m so glad you enjoyed this books. I loved it too and can’t wait until the next one comes out – this year as well I can’t remember the date but I’m gonna be on it! I might need to re-read Sea of Poppies first though. I read it in 2009. It’ the third book by Ghosh I read and by far my favourite. I really enjoyed The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace as well, but I think you can tell that Ghosh really enjoyed writing Sea of Poppies because it didn’t quite feel like his other two. He’s very good I think, at providing a sort of history lesson, or teaching you something new – but in a way that makes the book more interesting. The history lesson in Sea of Poppies felt much more integrated with the characters and plot then in his others.
I wish there’d been a proper glossary for all the confusing sea language. To begin with I wasn’t sure if I was gonna like it as I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It felt a bit like a journey in itself getting through that but I loved how I came to understand at least a bit of what was being said by the end.
Must be an enjoyable read Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by “to read” list.
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