Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1)” as Want to Read:
Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Sea of Poppies

(Ibis Trilogy #1)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  23,949 ratings  ·  2,503 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, 513 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by John Murray Publisher (first published 2008)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sea of Poppies, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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:
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
John Shell
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  23,949 ratings  ·  2,503 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1)
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
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 a beautiful depiction of local characters in a 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 just wonderful. I am sure, as Ghosh also acknowledges that he has toiled really hard, doing research of this certain historical period from the past. He has masterfully woven the ec
May 14, 2016 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
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the first epic instalment of the IBIS Trilogy. The story starts in 1838 on the eve of the first opium wars. Deeti is the central character of the story and she is the widow of an opium-addicted husband and avoids the immolation pyre (a tradition she should have undergone) to follow a vision of a journey on an ocean-going ship. The IBIS is that ship she boards to escape her fate and establish a new destiny in another land.

On the Ibis' travels to recruit coolies from Calcutta
Apr 05, 2010 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
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-lit-wd
What an interesting and unusual read!
Sea Poppies is set in 1830 during the turbulent world of the the Opium trade.
A large section of this book is set in India, with the final quarter being set on board a schooner called the Ibis.
The novel has a large cast of characters ..... you could say too many at times. We hear the stories of Zachary sailing from Boston to Calcutta in the Ibis, Raja Neel Rattan Halder’s fall from grace, a French girl Paulette’s unusual childhood growing up with a servant’s
P8tra X
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
And this is how you write a historical fiction.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
'Sea of Poppies' is a story of indentured laborers. We see all sorts of Indians huddled together in a ship called Ibis. We get to know the story primarily through its main characters Kalua and his wife Deeti. On this ship, there are people of different persuasions and background. Kalua and Deeti are no exception in this.

Both Kalua and Deeti are running away from persecution. They have secrets. Kalua is a lower caste man, and Deeti a young widow. Soon after her husband dies, her in-laws want to d
Doug Bradshaw
Nov 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: china, hf, india
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
From March 2012 — Seemingly every LibraryThing member I know and even my hairdresser has been raving about this novel set in 19th century colonized India, so it had a lot of expectations to live up to. It is excellently well written, which was the first thing I was able to appreciate about it, since it took me almost half the novel to really warm to this adventure story in which lower caste Indian natives put their lives and security in the hands of a wealthy and ruthless shipping merchant who t ...more
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
Review-2020 (reread) - 5 stars
I wanted to read the second and third parts of this series and thought I would refresh my memories of this book first. I enjoyed the characters way more this time around. In my first encounter, the tragic parts of this story really overwhelmed me and I missed out on appreciating the humor. But this time around Babu Nobkissin Pander tickled all my funny bones. I highly recommend this series to anyone out there regardless of generic preferences.

Review- 2016 - 4 stars
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Sea of Poppies" introduced a world I did not really know existed, a world where British people reduced and degraded an entire continent of people in their greed.
This is the story of several of those people, some of them connected tangentially, some of them not at all who end up together struggling for life and dignity aboard the ship Ibis in the Bay of Bengal.
I was so caught up in the story I was not ready for it to end. Good thing it is part of a trilogy.
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
Nandakishore Mridula
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
Nancy Oakes
Jul 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.

"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
Sep 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
3.5 stars

Sea of Poppies is set in the backdrop of the opium trade and serves as a brilliant example of how simply reading history books on a subject can sometimes only gives you a limited insight, whilst historical fiction can offer a more humane dimension to our understanding of a past event. I have briefly studied the Opium Wars in the past, but after reading this book I have a whole new understanding of the wider repercussions of Britain’s involvement with opium and how the trade affected e
Jun 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 recently picked up a copy of the third in the Ibis Trilogy, Flood of Fire, and given it was about 6 years since I read Sea of Poppies, and perhaps 4 for River of Smoke, I thought I had better re-read these before the finale.

I enjoy the writing of Amitav Ghosh a lot. I find his descriptive imagery builds up the setting and scenery as the story progresses excellent, and his depth of characters is great. While his writing s filled with words foreign to me - some common enough to be known, some no
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
While spread over a sprawling cast and a wide area, Sea of Poppies in concise in its theme, the spread of bondage via the medium of opium. I had been aware previously of the opium wars that had been waged against China to force its government to cede large tranches of sovereignty. I had not been fully aware of how linked the opium trade was to the wrecking of the Indian economy and the fortunes of the British Raj., and to the diaspora of Indian coolie labour through the British empire. Shame on ...more
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.
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Ana Ovejero
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Suitable Boy (A Bridge of Leaves, #1)
  • The White Tiger
  • The Inheritance of Loss
  • The Palace of Illusions
  • The God of Small Things
  • Midnight's Children
  • Family Matters
  • The Namesake
  • City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
  • The Lowland
  • Hind Swaraj and Other Writings
  • Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
  • Unaccustomed Earth
  • Such a Long Journey
  • A Fine Balance
  • Makam
  • White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India
  • Malgudi Days
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

Other books in the series

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

Related Articles

As this strange summer of staying put winds down, one thing remains truer than ever: Books offer us endless adventure and new horizons to...
58 likes · 30 comments
“How was it that no one had ever told her that it was not love itself, but its treacherous gatekeepers which made the greatest demands on your courage: the panic of acknowledging it; the terror of declaring it; the fear of being rebuffed? Why had no one told her that love's twin was not hate but cowardice?” 33 likes
“Hold a bottle by the neck and a woman by the waist. Never the other way around”.” 28 likes
More quotes…