Ruth's Reviews > Sea of Poppies

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
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's review
Jan 26, 2009

really liked it
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Read in January, 2009

I loved this book. It's such a sprawling story & introduced me to a world with which I'm not very familiar--India in the 1800s, from multiple points of view, with glances at China just before the Opium Wars. The plot device is Michener-like--an array of diverse characters whose personal destinies are eventually interwoven to illuminate a historical moment. Caste/class boundaries among both locals & immigrants are laid bare & played with & transgressed.

But Sea of Poppies is so much more than that, utterly charming & idiosyncratic, especially in the varieties of English spoken by colonial characters with roots in England & America. If I hadn't already returned the book to the library, I would give a couple of examples. There is an amusing extended glossary (itself idiosyncratic) in the back of the book, but I soon found that I just wanted to be carried along by the intense energy of the language & didn't mind missing some of the specific meanings.

The only reason I don't give the book 5 stars is the extreme physical violence that takes place at the end--a response, I hasten to add, to many forms of terrible violence that emerge throughout the story. The violence of the opium trade & of caste/class is the real story being told here, & it felt a bit Hollywoodish to see one's favorite characters rescued via vengeful personal violence against an Indian bad guy who wasn't the ultimate culprit.
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Yesha Naik yay! let me know how you like it!

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