Most helpful positive review
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Rich, beautiful, engaging
on February 10, 2009
This rich novel--the first in a trilogy--brings us to the plains of the Ganges during the beginnings of the Opium war, where the lives of a series of fascinating and diverse characters intersect: a wealthy, well-educated Raja, a young widow who grows poppies on a small plot of land, a British businessman who trades in opium, an American sailor, a group of culturally diverse and linguistically challenging sailors from around the Indian Ocean, a young French woman who grew up in India with her botanist father, a foul-mouthed and envious first-mate, and many many more. Ghosh invites us on a journey in time, in place, in language, and true to his previous works, it is so rich in detail, so convincing, so engaging that one truly feels they have been transported into another world. The reader, however, has to accept his proposal of entering into another culture (the culture of the trading ships in particular) and, similar to a journey to a foreign land, to not always understand the details of what is being said or done, but instead gather clues from the rest of the action and atmosphere. What is as much a tour de force--though so subtle as to be remarked only by those with a predisposition to thinking about such issues--is the way he evokes through his characters themes such as habitus, embodiment, identity and other concepts dear to anthropologists. As his characters migrate, change caste, fall or rise in social status and are generally confronted with sometimes radical shifts in their circumstances, they must also adapt their habits, diet, language, clothing, social interactions, perception of skin colour, and indeed their names. It must be emphasized, however, that Ghosh never is didactic (unlike some authors). Instead, the sheer beauty of his writing, the fascinating characters, the fast-paced action and more, all carry the reader on a wave that transports us from the poppy fields of Ghazipur, down the Ganges, and into the Indian Ocean through the lives of a group of people up-rooted by circumstance and thrown together on an old slave ship. Having read The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace, this novel is no less engaging, probably more, and once again witnesses to Ghosh's monumental talent as a constantly-inventive writer and story-teller. There could be much more to say: his talent with different ways of speaking, different accents and dialects; his impeccable historical research, his sense of place, his amazingly rich vocabulary... but see for yourself. I am only glad that Sea of Poppies will have a sequel so I see where this wave will carry the ship and its passengers!