Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sea of Poppies

Author:        Amitav Ghosh
Published   2008
Publisher:    Penguin India
Paperback: 528 pages. 
This fascinating historical fiction takes you back 175 years ago around the time when the British East India company transported  Indians in ships from India  to Mauritius to serve as a laborers (coolies as they were called) in their plantations.
Ibis is one such ship where we have a motley crowd consisting of a  - widowed village woman, a bankrupt Raja now a prisoner framed for forgery, a half-white American, a Bengali Babu, a French orphan girl  among  others, all heading towards  their destiny in the distant Mauritius, either by choice or due to compulsions.
This book forms the first part of the Ibis trilogy and almost four-fifths of the book describes the circumstances in which these people landed up on Ibis.
Even though there are too many characters, each one of them is vividly and realistically portrayed. We are able to empathize with them though there are shades of grey in their characters.
There are several humorous narrations too especially revolving around Babu Nob Kissen who somehow has got into his head that the American Zachary is reincarnation of Lord Krishna.
The only drawback according to me in this book is that it ends rather abruptly in the middle of Ibis's voyage at a very interesting turn of events. However that leaves the readers something to look forward to in its sequel "River of Smoke".
Sea of Poppies is a well researched book which is based on the writings of many 19th century scholars, dictionarists, linguists and chroniclers. It runs through over 500 pages in small print,
yet it is a fairly fast read without compromising on literary merit anywhere. After all the author Amitav Ghosh has earned a doctorate from Oxford.
This book was also shortlisted for  the Man Booker Prize 2008.
An engrossing read right from the page one till the end !

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