…one does not need the impressive bibliography of sources at the end to be struck by the wealth of period detail the author commands. His descriptions bring a lost world to life, from the evocatively imagined opium factory, the intricacies of women's costumes and the lovingly enumerated fare on the opulent dining tables of the era, to the richly detailed descriptions of the Ibis and its journey. At times, Sea of Poppies reads like a cross between an Indian Gone with the Wind and a Victorian novel of manners. And yet Ghosh has managed a sharp reversal of perspective. His ship, with the author's fine feel for nautical niceties, sails in Joseph Conrad territory, through waters since romanticized by the likes of James Clavell. But whereas those writers and so many others placed the white man at the center of their narratives, Ghosh relegates his British colonists to the margins of his story, giving pride of place to the neglected subjects of the imperial enterprise: colonialism's impoverished, and usually colored, victims…his novel is also a delight. I can't wait to see what happens to these laborers and seamen, the defrocked raja and the transgendered mystic in the next volume.
The Washington Post
…during the course of this novel, the first installment in his projected Ibis trilogy, Mr. Ghosh turns the ship into something robustly, bawdily and indelibly real…home to Mr. Ghosh's sparkling array of eccentrics, blowhards, runaway lovers and people seeking new leases on life…Sea of Poppies works well as a free-standing novel. But it also lays the groundwork for Mr. Ghosh's larger project. By the time this book ends, the reader has been caught up in a plot of Dickensian intricacy, the Ibis readied for whatever its mission may be, and the characters firmly enveloped in new, self-created identities.
The New York Times
Ghosh's latest novel is a 19th-century epic of slaves, opium and the Indian diaspora. Phil Gigante didn't seem to note the time period; he reads Ghosh's work as if its characters dated from the 1940s, not the 1840s. Gigante goes to town with the novel's voices, African, Indian and otherwise, but they are distractingly modern and aggressively stylized. When he is reading Ghosh's narration, Gigante's voice is smooth and calming, but the onset of dialogue sends him into a tizzy. The result is a shambles, with Indian voices sounding like a parody of The Simpson's Apu, and even sillier Southerner voices. The parade of clichéd vocals sinks Ghosh's work, rendering this audiobook an unnecessarily distracting historical anomaly. A Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 18). (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This first entry in internationally best-selling author Ghosh's (The Glass Palace) new "Ibis" trilogy revolves around the 19th-century opium trade. While the stories are grim, the language is beautiful, and actor/narrator Phil Gigante does an excellent job conveying it to listeners, moving swiftly and seamlessly among a variety of accents and pitches. The audiobook omits the glossary accompanying the print edition, but Gigante's inflexions give listeners a general idea of meaning. Highly recommended for all collections. [Audio clip available through library.brillianceaudio.com; the Farrar hc was recommended "for larger public library collections," LJ10/1/08.-Ed.]
Juleigh Muirhead Clark
A historical novel crammed almost to the bursting point with incidents and characters, but Ghosh (The Hungry Tide, 2005, etc.) deftly keeps everything under control. It's 1838, and Britain is set on maintaining the opium trade between India and China as a buttress of its economic, political and cultural power. Ghosh orchestrates his polyphonic saga with a composer's fine touch. He lays out multiple narrative lines, initially separate, that eventually conjoin on the Ibis, a schooner bound from Calcutta to China across the much-feared "Black Water." Neel, the sophisticated raja of Raskhali, is convicted of a trumped-up forgery charge. Kalua, a prodigiously strong member of the lower caste, rescues the higher-caste Deeti from ritual burning on the death of her egregious husband. Paulette, a feisty French orphan, stows away on the Ibis to escape the restricted life of a white woman in India. It also might have something to do with the attractions of Zachary Reid, the ship's mixed-race second mate from Baltimore. He's commanded by brutal first mate Jack Crowle, who has no sympathy for anyone of any color, and by Captain Chillingworth, who warns passengers and crew, "at sea there is another law, and . . . on this vessel I am its sole maker." Ghosh could be accused of using coincidence a bit too freely, but a more charitable view will judge the inevitability of these characters' intertwinings as karma-and part of the pleasure of reading the novel. The density of settings, from rural India to teeming Calcutta to the Sudder Opium Factory, is historically convincing, and the author pays close attention to variations in speech, from the clipped formality of the educated class to a patois ("thekubber is that his cuzzanah is running out") that definitely requires the glossary that Ghosh provides. Planned as the first of a trilogy, this astonishing, mesmerizing launch will be hard to top.
“A wonderful book, a large ambitious novel in which extraordinary people come to life and vibrant, exotic places are memorably depicted.” The Rocky Mountain News
“A delight . . . [Ghosh's] descriptions bring a lost world to life.” The Washington Post
“Brilliant...By the book's stormy and precarious ending, most readers will clutch it like the ship's rail awaiting, just like Ghosh's characters, the rest of the voyage to a destination unknown.” USA Today
“Ghosh's best and most ambitious work yet. . . . Ghosh writes with impeccable control, and with a vivid and sometimes surprising imagination.” The New Yorker
“Ghosh, on behalf of history, is unforgiving, but his novel is also a delight.” Miami Herald
“A storm tossed adventure worthy of Sir Walter Scott.” Vogue
“Amitav Ghosh's new novel speaks in tongues, marvelously capturing the polyglot nature of its characters. . . . Sea of Poppies is marvelous, its range and authority astonishing.” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Sea of Poppies is a veritable cauldron of energy intermingling with craft.” Chicago Sun-Times