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Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy #1)

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  15,573 Ratings  ·  1,800 Reviews
At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-sp ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published April 16th 2009 by John Murray (first published January 1st 2008)
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John Shell
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John Shell Actually Ghosh states in an interview that the story for Neel Rattan Halder came from his research. He stumbled upon mention of a zemindar named Pran…moreActually Ghosh states in an interview that the story for Neel Rattan Halder came from his research. He stumbled upon mention of a zemindar named Pran Krishna Halder, spelled as "Prawn Kissin Halder" who was tried for forgery. This is where Neel's story comes from. The Q&A notes can be found here:

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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This rollicking adventure story about colonial India was beaten to the 2008 Booker Prize by The White Tiger, a novel that trades on its gritty realism but which is actually just as much a fantasy of Indian life as this one. On the face of it, Sea of Poppies seems the more enjoyable. It has a huge, Dickensian cast that includes a fallen Rajah, a Chinese opium addict, a European girl gone native, a cross-dressing reincarnated saint, an American freedman and a poppy-farmer's widow, and its plot tak ...more
Apr 10, 2010 karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
donald harington recommended this book to me and now that he's gone, i can't even talk about it with him, and that is what i was thinking the whole time i was reading this book. if i hadn't had to read it for school, i would have waited until the other two books in the trilogy were published, so i could have had at them all at once, but again, school screws up my plans. it's an amazingly quick read - i was under the impression that i was supposed to have read it for yesterday's class so i zipped ...more
Grace Tjan
A beautifully written historical novel about 1830's India in the grip of the opium trade. The characters are just as diverse as the British Empire itself, each with their own dialects and idiosyncracies, all brought together by the opium trade's many tentacled hands into the Ibis, on a voyage that will irrevocably changed them forever. The author has obviously done a massive amount of research into the period, and this novel is so rich with details that it could veritably serve as an encyclopaed ...more
Tea Jovanović
Sjajan pisac, divan čovek i prelepa knjiga... Imala sam to zadovoljstvo da se dva puta sretnem s autorom, jednom na sajmu knjiga u Frankfurtu (kada sam kupila prava za njegove knjige) i kasnije na sajmu knjiga u Beogradu (kada već više nisam radila kod njegovog izdavača)... On toliko odiše toplinom i skromnošću da želite da se što duže zadržite u razgovoru s njim... Nažalost, kao da je izdavač odustao od njega jer poslednje 4 godine ništa njegovo nisu objavili, šteta... :(
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
If I had known this book was the first part of a trilogy - the other books as yet unwritten - and that the book was not complete unto itself, in other words, this saga is a serial rather than a series, I would probably not have bought it. And then I would have missed a book interesting for its historical period (the Opium Wars with China) about which I knew nothing, for its finely-drawn characters and general good-all-round storytelling.

This is really a 5-star book, but I am only giving it 4-st
First read: Nov '09

Sea of Poppies is the first book in the Ibis trilogy and I simply can't wait to read the second. Unfortunately Ghosh took four years to write this one and according to an interview hasn't even started the next ones yet. I do hope he doesn't leave us hanging for too long because this book definitely leaves you wanting to read more.

Ghosh is a fantastic author and I truly want to read more of his books. Sea of Poppies, compared to the other books of his I have read (The Hungry Ti
Dec 07, 2010 Praj rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Deeti, Kalua, Zachary, Serang Ali, Paulette, Neel and Baboo Kissin, I am afraid I have to abruptly dismiss our modest tea party. The biscuits are soggy, sandwiches are musty and the Darjeeling brew is insipid. So slip me some "black tar" and I’m off to the land of nocturnal rainbows bedecked with copulating gremlins.

Sea of Poppies irrespective to the fact of it being the preamble to Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and the onset ambience of the epic Anglo-Chinese Opium War,falls short in capturing my nomadi
Nancy Oakes
Aug 25, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone of a literary bent
Very broad in scope, Sea of Poppies is nonetheless an enchanting read, one that had me stopping normal routine so as to get back to it every time I had to put it down. Before you read this, however, you should know that it is designed as the first entry of what will eventually be a trilogy based on the ship Ibis and a group of people who, for whatever reason, found themselves aboard her. I say this because without understanding this point, you may feel a bit cheated by the ending of the novel.

Jul 27, 2015 Chrissie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, china, hf
This book really disappointed me. I have always loved Ghosh's books, so I would have to call this a big let down. The book needs a glossary listing Indian terms. Perhaps the dialog was made more authentic through these terms, but it also became impossible to understand the what was being said. Most paragraphs had terms that were not defined - neither in Wikipedia or any dictionary I could find on the net. Only a few of the terms can be found on the net. A few I knew from previous reading, but MA ...more
Syl. A.k.a Topo di biblioteca
Had a wonderful time first amidst the poppy fields of Bihar, learning the local lingo and fuming at the cruel landlords, then on board the Ibis, following certain dramatic incidents.
I met the following :
Deeti, a plucky higher caste lady
Kalua, an oxen like man, but simple minded
Paulette/ Pugli/ Putli - a half French lass with a tragic history
Azaad , the Moslem boatman who later pledges alliance with Ibis
Raja Neel Rattan - initially enviable, later pitiable
Zachary, the golden boy atop the ship, t
Doug Bradshaw
Nov 29, 2010 Doug Bradshaw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is quite a book and I have given it five stars because it is brilliant, well researched, beautifully written and right up there with some of the very best, similar in some ways, for example, to the Master and Commander series. However, I have a few observations and comments to make. The fat lady hasn't quite sung yet.

1. This is the first book in a trilogy. It ends with only two loose ends tied of dozens and dozens. There was some retribution in the end of the book but it came at a huge cos
"The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that when we kill people we feel compelled to pretend that it is for some higher cause. It is this pretence of virtue, I promise you, that will never be forgiven by history."

Sea of Poppies wrestles with the complex moral questions of the opium trade in an unexpectedly emphathetic way. There are the producers, users, and traffickers, all with complex mo
I had forgotten how annoyed I was at The Glass Palace; only to be remembered during Sea of Poppies.

A group of random individuals end up on a former slave ship as it makes it way from India to China during the opening years of the Opium Wars, in the first half of the 19th century. It's a good yarn, although intended as the first in a series of three, don't expect anything like a complete story here - Amitav Ghosh practically lets you off mid-sentence.

Whilst a colourful story, the characters are s
Ana Ovejero
Apr 26, 2016 Ana Ovejero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being set in India, during the Opium Wars between England and China, this monumental story tells the lives of several characters, from different castes and ideological perspectives, narrating the tumultuos times they have to survive. Amitav Ghosh is a master of storytelling, unravelling a plot in which everycharacter embarks themselves in a journey that will lead them to a ship, the Ibis.

The story begins with Deeti, a shy woman who struggles growing poppies to sell to the Opium factory. Unhappil
Nandakishore Varma
For all the hype it has generated, this book was sorely disappointing. It is a very fast read, and a good adventure yarn...and that is all. From a booker prize nominee, I expected something more.

The characters lack depth. The bad guys are evil, the good guys good. And some, like Nob Kissin Pander, are ludicrous. The story goes at a breakneck pace without stopping for a moment to consider, rather like a well directed bollywood movie (only the songs and dance numbers were missing)! There is a lack
Nov 05, 2008 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sacha, chris holmes
t'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, s
Joshua Rigsby
A wonderful book. Ghosh's attention to character and affection for language brim to the top of every page. It was wonderful to see the opium trade from a multiplicity of perspectives, classes, idioms, and ethnicities. He does get a little too specific with his jargon at times, leaving the reader to grope around the context for possible meanings, but this is my only minor qualm. I'd recommend this book to anyone.
Apr 30, 2016 Arvind rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Flawless and unputdownable - The unusual setting in d 1830s, d varied cast (castes too !) drawn from all strata of society and from d US, Englishmen, Indo-French, African/Asian crewmen, Indian farmers, untouchables, aristocracy, bureaucracy... All of the threads getting complete attention and as usual the meticulous Ghosh detailing leaves u spellbound in d first half.
However, after d setting is established, u realise that Ghosh is telling a fantastic story with episodes showcasing every human em
Jun 21, 2010 Ashley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
I almost considered not reviewing this, but I’d made a resolution to myself that I would post about every book I read for the sake of crystallising what I took away from it. To put this book in perspective: I’ve started reading with post-it flags to mark passages I love or things that I want to come back to when I write about it later. I didn’t mark a single passage in Sea of Poppies. Not one post-it flag. The only thing I considered marking was a passage that was hilariously difficult to follow ...more
The Sea of Poppies is the first installment of the Ibis trilogy, penned by one of the foremost story-tellers of modern India, Amitav Ghosh. This is my second tryst with him, (the first being The Hungry Tide which got me so emotionally engaged that I actually cried when of the characters died)so I was expecting some good stuff. I was not disappointed. I really liked this book too.

Imagine India, 1838. The farmers are being forced to give up growing life sustaining crops like rice and vegetables, t
Sep 14, 2014 Anastasia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-2013
Il primo approcio con questo libro è stato a dir poco ostico: se c'è una caratteristica evidente di Ghosh è che si prende davvero il suo tempo. Ce lo vedo dal benzinaio che ti fa aspettare mezz'ora mentre con la pompa mette gasolio a volontà e tu ti chiedi se prima o poi si partirà per questo benedetto viaggio per chissà dove, o se è uno di quei casi in cui il tipo ti fa tante promesse e poi rimane alla fermata perché non sa proprio dove portarti. Ghosh ad un certo punto accende il motore: e men ...more
I was skeptical, initially, about Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. I've read so many novels in which a building, character, or geographical feature becomes a metaphor for the entire country/culture of India (or, in the case of Shalimar the Clown, Kashmir). Here, it seemed to me, was the same conceit, being recycled in the form of a ship: the Ibis, a former slaver now refitted to carry opium, progresses from the harbors of the sacred Ganges beyond the Black Water one season in 1838, transporting an ...more
Jan 17, 2009 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. 4.5 stars easy. It takes place at the beginning of the Opium Wars, a time that I knew nothing about in that part of the world (India early 19th c.) It is gorgeously written with a great cast of sympathetic characters, all of whose lives are being affected by the opium trade and rampant imperialism. Strong themes of transformation and rebirth. And the first part of a trilogy - it will be hard to wait for the rest. Highly recommended, suitable for all readers.
This book is a ripping historical yarn. The detail gives the book a richness and colour (of India, somewhere, the sea to Mauritius, in advance of the Opium Wars), and the patina of an absolutely exotic past. The characters' lives are stratified along lines of colonial status, caste, or race; chance events (the sometimes slightly visible hand of a god-like author, I guess) throw all those relations up in the air, creating a thrilling (and adequately plausible) social fluidity engendered by the pr ...more
Mar 07, 2010 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If Dickens had picked up his pen in 1838 Calcutta, he might have written a story as tragi-comically epic and polyglottally intricate as Sea of Poppies. Purported to be the first in a trilogy, this richly detailed novel could be called a picaresque hero's journey ...but whose? Ghosh offers a trio, a quartet, no -- a quintet of unlikely heroes, including "mulatto" shipoutfitter-turned-2nd mate Zachary Reid of Baltimore; Deeti, a poppy-growing sharecropper with visions who flees her rural village u ...more
Elizabeth K.
Dec 29, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Constance
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Jennifer Peepas
Shelves: 2009-new-reads
Opium, adventure, and romance on the high seas! During the Raj! This was really rollicking.

And wow, what a vivid book. Jennifer mentioned this when she recommended it, and it's almost unbelievable how vibrant it is. When you're reading it, it feels like a Jumanji scene where you open up the book and can immediately hear the sounds of the ship and smell the poppies and spices and everything floods into Technicolor, and then when you close the book it all stops. And then you keep opening and clos

I understand why this would be Booker nominated. Seriously, I do. Sea of Poppies is a great book; I just feel it wasn't the book for me. Some parts were absolutely memorable, some were not.

What was great: The book features a multitude of characters - an eclectic mix of people from different backgrounds, religions, races, countries - and each has their own special place in the story.

What was not-so-great: While I absolutely loved some of these characters, I couldn't care less about the others.
Jun 29, 2013 Vijai rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: justbeautiful
What beautiful plots! Each flowing smooth as a whistle from a fair maiden's delicate lips.

Would it be that I did not see the author's connivance through these to hold me in his literary grip?

For naught I care, in these pages I wounded from Elokeshi's loyalty slip, teared at Neels' broken promise and what more! Felt the love of a sweet daughter separated with nothing to be said of a mysterious Ibis!

***Awkward Silence***

You see? That's what Mr. Amitav Gosh's writing did to me - a thriller junkie
Dec 27, 2009 Sowmya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Of ships that sail troubled waters, carrying souls tortured by the ‘Divide’; caste, class, racial and sexual. Of injustices carried out in the name of justice. The IBIS is overloaded with all kinds of deceitful activity, each a justified means to an end which seems further and further away, as the days pass on and the banks hold back while the women laborers bond as they endure getting raped or pregnant or married and the English Captain is bullied or befriended or the prisoners wallow in their ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
"[I]t didn't serve for a sahib to be taken for a clodpoll of a griffin: if he wasn't fly to what was going on, it'd be all dickey with him, mighty jildee.... If he, Zachary, wasn't to be diddled and taken for a flat, he would have to learn to gubbrow the natives with a word or two of the zubben."

... You don't say?

I am sure this is a perfectly good book, but its marketing as a fun seafaring adventure is way off-base. It is, apparently (40-odd pages in) a book about language. And if you don't know
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Chrestomathy 9 112 Sep 29, 2015 09:10PM  
Recommend reading #2? 5 60 Aug 04, 2015 09:04AM  
What does Crowley propose to Zachary when he finds out he is "black"? 4 41 Feb 03, 2015 07:51AM  
Indian Bookworms: Sea of poppies -February fiction 123 70 Mar 01, 2014 01:50AM  
Indian Readers: Sea of Poppies - June 2012 Group Read 31 88 Jul 02, 2012 05:23AM  
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Amitav Ghosh is one of India's best-known writers. His books include The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, The Hungry Tide. His most recent novel, Sea of Poppies, is the first volume of the Ibis Trilogy.

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta in 1956. He studied in Dehra Dun, New Delhi, Alexan
More about Amitav Ghosh...

Other Books in the Series

Ibis Trilogy (3 books)
  • River of Smoke (Ibis Trilogy, #2)
  • Flood of Fire (Ibis Trilogy, #3)

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