Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy, #1) by Amitav GhoshAt 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.
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This terrific novel, the first volume in a projected trilogy, unfolds in north India and the Bay of Bengal in on the eve of the British attack on the Chinese ports known as the first opium war. In Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh assembles from different corners of the world sailors, marines and passengers for the Ibis, a slaving schooner now converted to the transport of coolies and opium. In bringing his troupe of characters to Calcutta and into the open water, Ghosh provides the reader with all manner of stories, and equips himself with the personnel to man and navigate an old-fashioned literary three-decker. He begins in the villages of eastern Bihar with Deeti, soon to be widowed; her addicted husband, who works at the British opium factory at Ghazipur; and Kalua, a low-caste carter of colossal strength and resource. Moving downstream, we meet a bankrupt landowner, Raja Neel Rattan; an American sailor, Zachary; Paulette, a young Frenchwoman, and her Bengali foster-brother Jodu; Benjamin Burnham, an unscrupulous British merchant, and his Bengali agent, Baboo Nob Kissin; and every style of nautch girl, sepoy and lascar. On their way to the "black sea", these characters are exposed to a suttee or widow-burning, a shipboard mutiny, a court case, jails, kidnappings, rapes, floggings, a dinner party and every refinement of sex. The story proceeds at pace without too much by way of coincidence, dreams or - the bane of this sort of book - the supernatural.
M ore than a decade after he first sat down to write it, and with 1, pages and nearly a million words under his belt, Amitav Ghosh has concluded the Ibis trilogy, his fictional recreation of the events leading up to the first opium war of In this final instalment, that tension — essentially between a state resisting an unfettered trade that has kickstarted widespread addiction in its population and a conjunction of personal and corporate interests messianically committed to the cause of free trade — culminates in full-blown conflict. But neither of the previous two novels nor this one reads as a dry history lesson. It is simultaneously wrong-footing and delightful, riveting and diverting. Its linguistic playfulness is most evident in the story that concerns Zachary Reid, a Baltimore seaman and the son of a slave and her white master, who is himself taken by all who meet him as a white man. In a scene somewhere between a pastiche of the 19th-century novel and a Carry On film, Mrs Burnham witnesses from a distance him vigorously polishing a belaying pin, draws an unfortunate conclusion and furnishes him with a series of terrifying pamphlets outlining the dangers of onanism; before too long, and with the help of a revealing toga party, the pair begin a highly secret and enthusiastic sexual liaison that proceeds almost entirely by euphemism. You are not chewing on a chichky, and nor are you angling for a cockup!
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In the words of Rajnish Mishra, "the Ibis trilogy is Ghosh's most vehement indictment of the scourge of imperialism and colonialism". The story is set prior to the First Opium War , on the banks of the holy river Ganges and in Calcutta. The author compares the Ganges to the Nile , the lifeline of the Egyptian civilization, attributing the provenance and growth of these civilizations to these selfless, ever-flowing bodies. He portrays the characters as poppy seeds emanating in large numbers from the field to form a sea, where every single seed is uncertain about its future. The novel interweaves the stories of a number of characters, who all, in the latter half of the novel, find themselves taking passage from Calcutta to Mauritius on a schooner named the Ibis. The story begins with Deeti, a simple, pious lady, caring mother and an efficient housewife. Married to Hukam Singh, a crippled worker in the Ghazipur Opium Factory , the unfortunate Deeti figures out that on her wedding night, she was drugged with opium by her mother-in-law, so that her brother-in-law could rape her and consummate the marriage in place of her impotent husband.