Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh

I'd wanted to read something by Amitav Ghosh for quite a while. This book was the one I happened to pick up.

Set against the backdrop of the lead-up to the opium war, the central character is woman with a young daughter and an opium addicted husband. Part of it is set in poppy fields and an opium factory, and part of it aboard a ship. The two settings come together in the play of words that forms the title.

Readers can tell that a lot of research went into this book. The author has taken great care to get all his facts right. He has explored at great length the dialect spoken by Indian and middle eastern ship workers, the cultural situation and the caste divide of the time and the issues faced by farmers forced to cultivate poppies. He's also acquired a lot of knowledge on how every part of the poppy plant, the flowers, seeds, leaves and stem, was used at the time.

The story itself is intriguing. It starts out as four, maybe five independent stories which evidently are going to come together later in the book, but it is interesting to keep guessing exactly how everything will come together. The only downside was that the book was a little long for my liking, but I surprised myself by managing to finish it anyhow. Good read.

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