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Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy #1)

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  17,834 Ratings  ·  1,983 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
Kindle Edition, 525 pages
Published September 29th 2009 (first published January 1st 2008)
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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:
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Community Reviews

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Aug 22, 2016 Praveen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I give a high place to Ghosh among contemporary English Authors from India.
A saga of a ship, the Ibis, in the Indian Ocean and beautiful depiction of local characters in typical Indian way enthralled me and it kept me engaged with its characters and story.

This is a sprawling novel and its historical treatment is wonderful.I am sure, as Ghosh also acknowledges that he has toiled really hard, doing research of this certain period from the past. He has masterfully woven the economic hardship and el
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
May 14, 2016 Arah-Lynda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lod, i-said
It has been said that the Ibis, a seafaring schooner, bound from Baltimore to Calcutta and destined to transport opium to China lay at the heart of this story and while I agree that the Ibis is central to the tale being told, the true heart of this saga and what ultimately brings together a diverse cast of characters is opium.

Rich in historical detail and panoramic views of land and sea this story is set in the 1830’s just on the cusp of the opium wars in China. Ghosh expertly weaves together t
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... :(
Apr 05, 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
The title of this book is so spot-on. While an interesting cast of characters populated the story of opium: from the empoverished villages of India, to the compromised users in China, with the movers and shakers of colonialism in between, only one element dictated the outcome, and that was poppies. These happy little flowers invaded every single aspect of land, sea and all things alive, even innocent animals. There was not a soul, psyche or physical body devoid of its impact in the nineteenth ce ...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
Petra Eggs
Apr 26, 2009 Petra Eggs 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
Doug Bradshaw
Nov 13, 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
Nancy Oakes
Jul 31, 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 21, 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
Apr 28, 2008 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
I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy for its rich historical detail and its playfulness with language. Ghosh writes of the opium trade and the First Opium War. He’s clearly done a ton of research into all aspects of the trade, and it was a real history lesson not only on the events of the First Opium War but also the society, culture and economics associated with the opium trade.

This is simultaneously the trilogy’s strength and its weakness. The opium trade and the First Opium War are the primary
"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
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
Ana Ovejero
Mar 12, 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
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.
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
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
Apr 25, 2014 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 04, 2013 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
Jun 12, 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

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.
Tanuj Solanki
I'm doing a series of articles on the Ibis trilogy in The New Indian Express. The first three, written after reading the three parts of this book, are provided below.


For some time, the literary phenomenon that is Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy passed me by. Perhaps the fact that I read one of his earlier novels, The Hungry Tide, and couldn’t call it a favorite played its part. Perhaps it was just that there are too many good books and one can only read a minor percentage among them.

Recently, aft
Nov 17, 2011 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not often when I read nowadays that I feel I've been in the presence of a master, but at the end of this rousing historical novel, I certainly did.

In "Sea of Poppies," Amitav Ghosh has created a vivid cast of characters, richly alien dialogue, an adventure story, a historical visualization of the opium trade and sea life, and an entire world. The first of a trilogy, with the second now out in hardback, it makes me want to rush out for book two.

At the heart of this book, in many ways, are tw
Shayantani Das
May 21, 2014 Shayantani Das rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read it as part of my literature of contact, comparative lit course. It is remarkable in its lucidity and attention to detail. I can not even imagine the amount of research that goes into writing a book like this. Character developments could definitely have been better but I love Ghosh's rendition of the landscape and his experimentation with the language. The book ended very abruptly, so might as well get a hold of the entire trilogy before you begin this journey.
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
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
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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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