I did struggle with this book, mostly due to the language it uses which is seafaring language; a mix between Indian and English (I think) presumably to enable the different nationalities onboard the ships of that time to be able to communicate. I thought I might have to give up with the book initially but I did persevere and found that the language became easier to understand – or at least I can’t say I understood every word but I got enough of the gist to understand what was being said. The book is set about 200 years ago when the East India Trading Company was heavily involved in India and the slave trade had just been abolished and was being replaced by the trade in opium. I think another reason I struggled with this book is because I don’t know very much about this time in history.

There are several main characters in the book that are all unconnected with each other and yet are eventually thrown together aboard the Ibis, an old slaving ship. Some of these characters are employees on the ship, some are setting off for a new life elsewhere, and some are convicts being transported. The Ibis becomes a micro-community and their class, race, wealth, and previous existences all become irrelevant as they have to live and mix together onboard ship.

I did enjoy gradually getting to know all the characters and, to my surprise, after my initial resistance to the book and its style of writing, I began to care for them. I was quite disappointed that, after investing so much time getting to know and understand these characters, the story finished without the ship reaching its destination so I felt a little cheated that I didn’t learn how each character ended up. I have seen since, however, that Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy so my annoyance at not having all the characters’ stories completed is a bit harsh, I now realise, as I presume this is dealt with in later books.

I was filled with admiration at how much knowledge the author obviously has of this time in history and the amount of research he must have done. The book is an epic tale and I admire it for its depth and historical content, but it didn’t really grab me and it wasn’t really to my taste. I don’t imagine I’ll be searching out parts two and three.




Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2008: a stunningly vibrant novel from Amitav Ghosh
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