Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

START with Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

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I recently wrote a book review on River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh, which held me spellbound, so riveting that I had to order Sea of Poppies, which is actually the first volume of the trilogy. I had heard a review of River of Smoke on NPR and although it was written as the second volume in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alond.

Yes. Yes, it can be read as a stand-alone, but it is so much easier, I can state with authority, if you read them in order. Once I started Sea of Poppies, I also discovered an extensive glossary in the back, several pages, a list of the words, annotated with suggested origins, and it adds so much color to an already brilliantly colored novel. Much of both novels uses words from many cultures, and words that have been formed by another culture’s understanding of the words (some hilarious). If you like Captain Jack Sparrow, you’re going to love the polyglot language spoken by ship’s crews from many nations trying to communicate with one another. It can be intimidating, but if you sort of say the words out loud the way they are written at the beginning, you begin to find the rhythm and the gist of the communication, just as if you were a new recruit to the sea-going vessels of the early 1800’s. I loved it because it captured the difficulties encountered trying to say the simplest things, and the clever ways people in all cultures manage to get around it, and make themselves understood.

Sea of Poppies starts in a small Indian village, with one of the very small poppy gardens, planted on an advance from an opium factory representative, thrust upon the small farmer, with the result that most small Indian farmers converted their entire allotment from subsistence foods to poppies. Ghosh walks us through an opium processing factory, which is a little like walking through the circles of hell. We meet many of the characters we will follow in River of Smoke, and learn how this diverse group bonded into one sort of super-family through their adventures – and misadventures – together.

It is an entirely engrossing work. Sea of Poppies was short listed for the Man Booker award, and was listed as a “Best Book of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and The Economist. The theme is the opium trade, leading to the Opium Wars, with China, and is a chilling indictment of how business interests manipulate a population’s perceptions of national interests to justify . . . well, just about anything, in the name of profit.

The theme is woven through human stories so interesting, so textured, so compelling, that you hardly realize you are reading history and learning about the trade, cultures, travel, clothing, traditions, religions, food, and motivations as you avidly turn the pages.

I can hardly wait for the third volume. Get started now, so you’ll be ready for it when it comes out!

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March 3, 2013 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Gardens, Health Issues, India, Language, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Political Issues, Social Issues, Travel, Women's Issues | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Hi!! :) Long time no see! Just randomly going through your posts after a very longish while. I love Amitav Ghosh’s books. And yes the sea of poppies was real good and the Hungry tide too. Absolutely loved it. River of smoke yet to read. Shall soon…Was searching for some pics of your grandson! Couldn’t spot any! :)

    Comment by vaidegij | October 19, 2013 | Reply

  2. I am happy to see you again!

    We have a book club at our church, so we are continuing to read really good books.

    LOL, how can you wait to read River of Smoke? I am eager for the last book in the trilogy; I will have to read it as soon as it comes out. He takes me to an entirely different world, and I understand a small part of history, with all it’s complex components, in a way I never understood it before!

    My grandson is three and a half, and now he looks like himself, so I don’t want to intrude on his privacy. People in Pensacola would recognize him. :-)

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 19, 2013 | Reply


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