2008 Booker Prize Historical Fiction

Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh

Short Listed for the Booker Prize 2008

I had mixed feelings about this book. I loved the first section, set in an Indian poppy plantation. The descriptions of life as a poppy farmer fascinated me and the atmosphere was set perfectly. I would have loved the whole book to be about the lives of these rural Indians. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the atmosphere of the book was changed by the arrival of the white traders. These arrogant men crashed through the gentle prose and ruined everything for me. I found their dialogue hard to understand, and when the story moved on board the trading ship bound for Mauritius I started to lose interest in the book. Life on board ship would be of interest to those who are studying it, but most of the seafaring terms went over my head.

As the book progressed, the plot slowed, and the writing became weighed down in too much detail. The Sea of Poppies is the first book in a trilogy, and I have heard that it is just setting the scene for the next book. If this is the case then I felt it spent too long doing this. The fact it is a trilogy also meant that the ending was a bit flat – left open to allow for the sequel. I don’t think I’ll be reading the next one unless a trusted source informs me that it is a lot better than this one.

Recommended to anyone with a thirst for knowledge about life on a trading ship in the 19th century, but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me.



Have you read Sea of Poppies?

Did you enjoy it? Are you planning to read the rest of the trilogy?

Have you read The Glass Palace or The Hungry Tide? Are they better than Sea of Poppies?

42 replies on “Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh”

Very interested to read this review, because Amitav Ghosh is on my list of authors to try this year – in particular The Glass Palace, which I think is set in Burma? I find it really hard to read books that are weighted with too much research or detail though.

The Glass Palace interested me more than Sea of Poppies, but a book group I belong to chose this one to read. I still think I want to read Glass Palace at some point, but I hope it has more momentum to it’s plot.

I’m sorry you didn’t love it, Jackie. 🙁 I really loved this, and in fact, I loved the latter part of the book more than the beginning–the pace picked up, the characters came together. The ending quite was quite abrupt, but of course owing to being first of a trilogy. I’m eagerly awaiting the second book!

I’ve read The Hungry Tide, and it has a very interesting storyline, but the writing, from what I remember, was less impressive (less poiished or refined). I found the writing in Sea of Poppies quite masterful.

That’s interesting. It did pick up at the end for me too, but the ending frustrated me a bit. I do like some things to be resolved at the end of each book even if it is part of a series. I don’t like it when the book just seems to stop in a seemingly random place.

The character building was just too long in this book, so I don’t think it can stand alone. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the second one though. I may still be tempted to read it.

Unless the rest of the trilogy turn out to be amazing I don’t think you’re missing much by skipping this one!

I have seen this book countless number of times in the bookstore but didn’t know it was a series. hmmm…that changes everything.

I was thinking of reading this book, but now I won’t. As far as I rememeber this book is huge right? I don’t have the patience to go thru’ 2 more.

My paperback is 530 pages long, so it is quite long for a book which doesn’t grap your attention throughout.

I’ve been putting this one off. I wanted to read it because of the booker nomination, but something about it just doesn’t appeal. I may get to it, but I alwas seem to find something else that just HAS to be read first!

I know how you feel – I don’t think I’d have picked this up so quickly without the book group prompting me. There are so many books I really want to read!

Well, darn – I don’t usually read books because of prize nominations, but I had read about this one, and I was excited about the Indian poppy plantation business. But that is an awfully long book to read if you don’t really love it.

I loved the poppy planation bit. It isn’t that long really though. The type is quite big and it does flow quite well. It didn’t feel like a real chunkster to me – just a slightly longer book than usual.

Such a good illustration of how a “negative” review can still sell books. I think I would love this — including or especially the shipboard scenes.

It is interesting you should say that – I don’t think I have ever made a direct sale through my Amazon links for a book I have raved about, but I see a steady trickle of sales for books I have written negative reviews for. I think this means I should work on my postive reviews a bit more – or noone has the same taste in books as me! I’m not sure which is better!

I gave up on Sea of Poppies, just didn’t engage with it at all. I think when this happens it can put you off trying the author again so I’m not desperate to read anything else by this author at the moment. Good review, Jackie

I won’t be rushing out to buy his books again, but I did enjoy certain sections so won’t rule it out. Did you enjoy the first few chapters of this? Did you lose interest when they went on board ship?

Yes it started out ok and then going on board the ship and the jargon just put me off. I agree with your comment that if it had a been set on the poppy plantations through out, I think it would have been more engaging for me.

I will probably have forgotten all about this by the time the next one comes out. I really shouldn’t read the first in a trilogy until the entire series has been published.

I’m planning on getting to this eventually… The premise sounded so good when I first read it awhile ago, it’s a shame it didn’t hold your attention throughout.

I really enjoyed the Sea of Poppies and my husband who is reading it now can’t put it down. I was disappointed when it ended and can’t wait to read the sequel. Does anyone know when it will be published?

I think I read somewhere that it would be September 2010, but I can’t remember where I heard that, and can’t find any reference to it any more. Sorry I can’t be more use.

I read The Sea of Poppies because I had previously read and loved The Glass Palace. I found it very slow to get going but was really drawn into it in the final third and am very eager to read the next installement.

I just finished this book about 30 minutes ago-I also found all of the nautical terminology interesting at first then a little tiresome-It does show us a lot about 19th century India, especially concerning opium trade-It is densely written-I will read the next two sections of the trilogy-I will post my review in a day or so

I read The Sea of Poppies over Xmas and I loved it…eventually. I thought it started out quite slow and I also found the nautical terminology quite tiring. Although as I kept reading, the stories of each character became so interesting and it all merged so beautifully when they all got on the Ibis.

Once the nautical jargon ceased I enjoyed it much more I got very engrossed in the writing style of Mr Ghosh as i found it to be very polished. I do howevere appreciate the amount of research that would have gone into writing in that style for Serang Ali.

In short I couldn’t put it down! Eagerly awaiting the next book.

Min Kapoor, I think he is a very talented writer, but the nautical bit was too much. I hope that the rest of the trilogy leaves that bit out and is much more readable.

I stumbled across this blog while looking for information on when the next book in this series will be released. I just finished Sea of Poppies and am desperate for the next one to come out! I didn’t read the book, however, I listened to it on CD. It flew by! The narrator was awesome with accents and vocal expression, and it really made the story come alive. Additionally, on the website for the book, there is a glossary of terms that helped a bit. I plan to listen to the next book as well, rather than reading it. Cheers!

Irene, Thank you for suggesting the audio book. I can see how that might work and if I happen to spot an audio copy in the library I’ll give it a try.

I read Sea of Poppies recently and found it very interesting.May be me from Calcutta enhanced my curiosity.But Still I don’t think this is the author’s best work till date.”The Glass Palace” was absolutely riveting from page 1 and continues to be my favorite book of amitava ghosh(Having read lot of his works).
I also agree that the ship jargon was a bit difficult and frustrating to follow by the end but the plot held on.
Cannot wait for the next installment.

Wow can’t believe you didn’t like it – I LOVED this book!

At the beginning I was most interested in Deeti and wanted to quickly get through the parts which introduced Zachary at first. However, when Neel, Jodu, Paulette and Baboo Nob Kissin were introduced and their stories started to come together, I found it impossible to stop reading.

I thought the ending was great and really leaves you hanging on for the next book, as the book leads up to that moment from the very beginning and keeps you guessing. I’d highly recommend it!

Tom, I do keep wondering if I missed something in this book and should try it again sometime. Perhaps I’ll give it another go when the entire trilogy has been published. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed it 🙂

loved the book.As an Indian now living outside India, I found it very interesting to know how Indians ended up on remote islands of the world, how they suffered and how getting on the boat for any reason can change the life of your generations to come is very interesting. I was reading this book while I was on a holiday in Mauritius! While I was talking to Indians over there, who did not have any clue where they come from, suddenly this book was making more sense to me and was touching me on a different level.
Can’t wait to find out what happens next.

I have just started Sea of Poppies and have been researching all the different reviews. So far I am enjoying, this is for my book club. I recently purchased the Glass Palace as well and looking forward to that. I will add more as I move further into the book. Luaunna

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