Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sea of Poppies Review

Book talk: Zachary--a carpenter by trade who goes from novice sailor to first mate in his first sea voyage due to maladies and misfortunes plaguing the crew.  Deeti--a wife and a farmer who has lost her food crops and her husband to the insatiable poppy industry.  Jodu and Paulette--orphans and adopted siblings separated by a hierarchical society that leaves them at opposite ends.  Neel--a Raja struggling to maintain his father's legacy while paying off the debts he left him.  Under normal circumstances these people would never meet, but in desperate times fate twists their lives unexpectedly and leads them down the same path: towards the Ibis, at sail on the Ganges and beyond.

Rocks my socks: This was the first adult book I read after a semester of only reading for my tween materials class, and it was exactly the kind of complex sink-your-teeth-in narrative that I was craving. The narrative reminds me of Dickens in its wide cast of characters and its focus on those at the bottom of the social ladder.  But it's set in India right before the Opium wars, which is a time and place I know very little about so the rich details allowed me to lose myself in a new world.  Mauritius also figures into the narrative and one of my best friend's Dad is from there so I was excited to hear about it.  Given my own ignorance on the time and place I was pleased when Madame Cheng cropped up because I recognized her from the Stuff You Missed in History Podcast episode "Don't Cross the Dragon Lady" (from March 9th, 2011).  I was even more pleased when I read this blog, however, and realized that part of the narrative I assumed was fiction was fact.   I loved all the languages glimpsed in the book including the delightful sailor's 'pijjin' language. I wouldn't call this novel a fast read due to its complexity but it is definitely absorbing.  Ghosh leaves it as a good place instead of a cliff hanger, like a gentleman, but I was still eager to read the next one.  So eager, in fact that I went out and bought it in hardcover because I found a signed copy at my local indie book store.  Because independent book stores rock.

Rocks in my socks: None, I loved it!

Every Book its Reader:  I'd give it to someone looking for a modern literary epic and fans of Dickens.  Anyone with an interest in historical fiction, India, the opium trade, or sailing will enjoy it as well.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Buy it or check it out today!

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