Sea of Poppies (Paperback)
Picador USA, 9780312428594, 543pp.
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
The first in an epic trilogy, Sea of Poppies is "a remarkably rich saga . . . which has plenty of action and adventure a la Dumas, but moments also of Tolstoyan penetration--and a drop or two of Dickensian sentiment" (The Observer London]).
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-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton. With a panorama of characters whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, Sea of Poppies is "a storm-tossed adventure worthy of Sir Walter Scott" (Vogue).
About the Author
Praise For Sea of Poppies…
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year • A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year • A Washington Post Best Book of the Year • An Economist Best Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
"A wonderful book, a large ambitious novel in which extraordinary people come to life and vibrant, exotic places are memorably depicted."--The Rocky Mountain News
"A delight . . . [Ghosh's] descriptions bring a lost world to life."--The Washington Post
“Brilliant...By the book’s stormy and precarious ending, most readers will clutch it like the ship’s rail awaiting, just like Ghosh’s characters, the rest of the voyage to a destination unknown.”--USA Today
"Ghosh's best and most ambitious work yet. . . . Ghosh writes with impeccable control, and with a vivid and sometimes surprising imagination."--The New Yorker
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Discuss how the relationships between the various classes of people aboard the Ibis change throughout the novel. To what extent does the caste system affect these relationships? Which characters undergo the most significant changes?
- How are women's roles different from men's in Sea of Poppies? What common ground do Deeti, Paulette, and Munia share?
- What does the Ibis represent to Zachary at various points in the novel? How does his perception of the ship change as his perception of himself changes?
- Many of the lives Ghosh depicts are shaped by social and political forces beyond their control. What are some of these forces? Describe some of the individual acts of bravery, defiance, or deception that enable his characters to break free from what they see as their fate.
- How do those involved in the opium trade, from British factory owners to frontline harvesters, justify their work in Sea of Poppies? How does their industry compare to modern-day drug trafficking versus the pharmaceutical industry?
- When Mr. Burnham gives religious instruction to Paulette, what does he reveal about his mindset in general? How does he balance his shame with his attitudes toward suffering, including his notion that slavery somehow yields freedom?
- Discuss the power of love as it motivates the characters. Does obsession strengthen or weaken Baboo Nob Kissin? What kind of love is illustrated when Deeti gives up her child? What kinds of love does Neel experience in the presence of his loyal wife and his fickle mistress?
- What gives Neel the ability to endure Alipore Jail and his subsequent voyage? Does he feel genuine compassion for his cell mate, or is he simply trying to make conditions more livable for himself? Ultimately, who is to blame for Neel's conviction?
- How did Paulette's free-spirited upbringing serve her later in life? What advantages and disadvantages did she have?
- What does Zachary teach Jodu about loyalty and survival? How is trust formed among the suspicious Ibis crew?
- To what degree is Mr. Crowle powerless? What does the future hold for those who defied him?
- Which historical aspects of the Opium Wars surprised you the most? What did you discover about colonial India by reading Sea of Poppies?
- Sea of Poppies makes rich use of Asian-influenced English. Some of the words, such as bandanna, loot, and dinghy, are still used frequently, but many others, like bankshall, wanderoo, and chawbuck, are now rare, although they were once common and are included in The Oxford English Dictionary. Discuss the Ibis Chrestomathy, which appears at the end of the book. What do Neel's observations suggest about language and culture? Why do you think some words disappear from usage, while others endure? Can a culture's vitality be measured by how eagerly its language absorbs outside influences?
- In an interview with TheBookseller.com, Ghosh stated that "oil is the opium of today." Do you agree or disagree?
- How does Sea of Poppies reflect themes you have observed in Amitav Ghosh's previous works? What new issues does he explore in this novel?