"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...more"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 motivations and needs, and then there are the untold thousands simply swept up by the tide of the opium trade.
Ghosh's magisterial novel connects the lives of a disparate set of characters, ultimately placing them on board a ship, the Ibis, headed for Mauritius. While the plot is too complex for neat summary, a resonant theme is transformation and rebirth. Several characters experience precipitous falls from grace and yet also find redemption. The central character, Deeti, is a simple woman who finds she has more strength than anyone ever expected, while another character, rajah Neel Rattan Halder, finds friendship and solace in the most unexpected of companions.
Ghosh's characterization and pacing are superb, not to mention he wields effortless control over imagery and language. I never found myself growing impatient at the lyrical descriptive passages; instead, these somehow illuminate the very souls of the characters. Having recently come back from a trip to India, I was once again intoxicated by the sights, sounds, and smells of India as depicted in this gorgeous novel.
Halfway through the novel, I discovered Sea of Poppies was the first novel in a trilogy. At this writing, the second novel has yet to be published. I'm hoping, of course, to find the second novel as rewarding as the first. I'm also hoping another audiobook version narrated by Phil Gigante will be produced, for he is an excellent narrator for this work. (less)
I read this dutifully, having heard for many years that it was a classic. It sat on my shelf for years. I picked it up occasionally and set it back do...moreI read this dutifully, having heard for many years that it was a classic. It sat on my shelf for years. I picked it up occasionally and set it back down again. Today, however, I picked it up and read it straight through.
I understand why this book made such an impact, for it's a powerful tale, told in a deceptively simple fashion, as if it were a folk tale or parable.
This did not, alas, make me like it. Instead I came away feeling slightly irritated and nauseous. My son read this book in high school; no doubt it was assigned in hopes of broadening of his perspective. But I can't help but feel that this book does less (at least for some) to broaden outlooks than harden them.
The bullying, misogynistic protagonist reminded me unpleasantly of all the things I like least about Africa. True, he is not a 'hero,' but his downfall is regarded as tragic, and the book is compared to a Greek tragedy. But I can think of no Greek protagonist whose hubris and shortcomings are as great or as unleavened.
Far from feeling that the villagers of the story led an idyllic life before the arrival of the missionaries, I felt profound sympathy for the women and the victims of tribal "justice" and blind superstition. Each civilization is unhappy and unjust in its own peculiar way, perhaps, but in the clash between traditional Ibo society and the colonial missionaries, it seemed both were culpable.
The end of the book comes as something of an abrupt slap. Suddenly racism is thrust front and center, as if it has the last say. It seemed to me to be just one of a litany of evils unveiled in this parable.
I should probably rate the book higher for having provoked such a strong response, but I just can't. (less)
This is one of those times I wish there were "half" stars to award. I'd give this three and a half stars rather than four. My feeling is that this nov...moreThis is one of those times I wish there were "half" stars to award. I'd give this three and a half stars rather than four. My feeling is that this novels relies a bit too much on the average reader's inbuilt dislike of the Taliban and willingness to believe the worst of war-torn Afghanistan. In other words, it's what I expected to read about the situation there. The ending seemed a bit pat to me, too. However, having said that, I did read this novel relatively quickly and enjoyed the central characters. I just couldn't escape the suspicion that part of my enjoyment stemmed from having my presuppositions reinforced.
I also felt that some of the historical events mentioned in the novel were a bit on the gratuitous side. The reader didn't need a blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of Afghani warlords to understand the basic deplorable situation.
I haven't read The Kite Runner yet, which received near universal acclaim. I'm not sure if I will -- perhaps if I'm in the mood for another good round of tsk-tsking about the Taliban combined with a hefty dose on the theme of "human redemption" I will.
Read in Italian, Fiabe Italiano. I don't think this was the best introduction to Calvino, and I've always meant to read something that's his originall...moreRead in Italian, Fiabe Italiano. I don't think this was the best introduction to Calvino, and I've always meant to read something that's his originally... but so far I haven't gotten around to it. I had this book by my bedside for the better part of a year and read it a fable at a time. (I'd done something similar for Russian folk tales, and I have to sadly report that reading folk tales in the original is really not the best way to learn or reinforce a language!) (less)
I've come back to this huge saga repeatedly over the years, but I never actually have finished it. (I peter out around the time that Genji dies and th...moreI've come back to this huge saga repeatedly over the years, but I never actually have finished it. (I peter out around the time that Genji dies and the story continues with his son.) But it doesn't matter, as this novel is so episodic it can easily be read in installments.
I first read the Arthur Waley translation in the Modern Library edition, and since that time have also read the Seidensticker translation, and more recently I have also read bits of Helen McCullough's combined Tales of the Heike/Tales of Genji volume. I must say that for purely sentimental reasons, I prefer Waley, though it's said his version is the least accurate. To my mind, however, it is the most poetic.
Anyone hoping to gain insight into the Japanese sense of aesthetics would do well to read just a few portions of this book, but I'm willing to bet that many will be drawn in as I was into Murasaki's Heian world and the romance of Genji. (less)
While this is considered one of the masterpieces of Norwegian literature, I confess to having found it a bit of a slog. I couldn't feel much empathy f...moreWhile this is considered one of the masterpieces of Norwegian literature, I confess to having found it a bit of a slog. I couldn't feel much empathy for the central character in the book, a poor starving writer who seems to suffer from some sort of bipolar disorder (or wild mood swings, at any rate). While the portrait was vividly drawn, I simply found myself getting increasingly irritated by him. As a character sketch of a self-destructive man, it has its merits, but I think it was too heavily symbolic for my taste. It's hailed as being one of the seminal works of modernism, and I can see that it may have made quite a splash back in the late 19th century. Perhaps the translation I read wasn't the best. (less)