Martin's Must Reads: 'Sea of Poppies'

Aug 6, 2019

“At the heart of this vibrant saga is an old slave ship the Ibis. It’s destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight in China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and that quote is from the fly leaf of Amitav Ghosh’s novel Sea of Poppies.  It was published in 2008 and is the first of a trilogy. This book takes some time to read because it’s rich in details and foreign words, including a whole different dialect  spoken by the sailors. (The book includes a thirty page glossary in the back.)

The novel’s journey has three parts: Land, River and Sea. It begins in India in the mid 1800’s when the British ruled India and made a lot of money off the sale of Indian grown opium to the Chinese.

Some of the main characters include Deeta, a recent widow, Kaula her new husband, Paula , a young woman under the care of a rich British family, Jodu, a recently orphaned young man, Zachary, a young American sailor and Neel, a former Raja, imprisoned for a fake forgery charge. They all have reasons to escape to a better life and find themselves together on the merchant ship the Ibis. In the hold of the ship are a hundred indentured Indians heading to a new land and hopefully a better life. The sailors and first mate are ruthless men.

If you have the time and inclination to savor a detailed adventure, then you must read Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.