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Reading Buddies Discussion: “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh

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Welcome to the Reading Buddies discussion for Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh! This book has been on my list ever since a bookstore patron at my old store recommended it to me very strongly. I’ve even had a copy for the past year and a half; it was one of the literary souvenirs I brought home from my first trip to India. Thanks to you guys for getting me to finally read it!

As usual, spoilers are fair game here, so if you’d like to avoid them, best to skip this post and stop back tomorrow!

At present, I’m just about to start chapter 14. I’m not sure what I expected, but the book doesn’t fit the mental picture I had in my head. Not that that’s a bad thing — I’m enjoying it all the same! I think I’m mostly surprised by how many story lines are going at once. What surprises me even more is that I’m having zero problems keeping the stories and characters straight. There are so many of them, but I’ve not struggled with who’s who or what’s happening where in the least. I love how they’ve gone from isolated stories to threads drawing together into one narrative.

I’m curious: who is/are the main character(s)? Are there any? I’ve thought about this question. It seems to me that Ghosh is placing a subtle emphasis on Deeti and Kalua. Every story so far has had at least one character described in reference to how s/he is later represented in Deeti’s shrine. Then, in chapter 12, Ghosh makes reference to the dynasty that descends from Kalua. Also, the sections of the book — “Land,” “River,” and “Sea” — seem to be based on where Deeti and Kalua are during that portion of the story. As the characters we’ve met so far start to converge on the Ibis, I’m really curious to find out where Ghosh is going with those little droplets of foreshadowing!

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (cover)I’m surprised by how much I’m not doubting the plot. If you’d summarized it for me before I’d started reading — a hulking outcast saves a widow from her husband’s pyre and runs away with her into the night! an English girl and an Indian boy raised together but separated reunite with scarcely a hitch! — I’d have been more than a bit skeptical. But instead, I find myself quite drawn in. I can’t put my finger on why it all works for me, but it does. Do any of those elements bother you?

The one piece I am struggling with just a bit, which another reader also mentioned on Goodreads, is the language. Serang Ali and Doughty are the hardest for me to understand, the one because of grammar and the other because of the foreign words with which he peppers his speech. Then there are all the naval terms and local words I don’t already know. It makes me realize how much hand-holding some authors do, being sure to introduce or clarify an unfamiliar word before they go on to use it again! It does add a certain foreign air to the story, and I don’t think I’m missing anything important, but I do have to slow down in spots. On the other hand, I enjoy the misunderstandings that come from Paulette trying and failing to find the right word at times. Is the language causing problems for you at all?

I know Sea of Poppies is the first of a trilogy, the second book of which, River of Smoke, just came out. I’m wondering what sort of ending Sea of Poppies will have. Will I need to continue on to the next book right away, or at all? We’ll see! How is this particular read going for you?

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  • http://www.reviewsbylola.wordpress.com Stephanie

    Man, I really need to reread this one. It is one of the first books I reviewed on my blog, so it has been about two years since I read it and the details are VERY fuzzy. I also want to read the sequel.

    • Erin

      Details tend to get fuzzy for me, too, after enough time! Plus, it seems Sea of Poppies is pretty heavily dependent on little details. I think I’ll want to read the sequel, but I guess I should wait until I finish this one before I decide!

  • http://jennysbooks.wordpress.com Jenny

    I haven’t read River of Smoke yet (I can’t remember if it’s out yet, actually), but I’m excited for it. I’ve heard it’s not so much a sequel though! Like that the same characters aren’t necessarily the focus of the second book. I’m curious to see how it all plays out, but definitely disappointed that I won’t get to see all the Sea of Poppies characters together for the whole second book. :/

    • Erin

      It’s actually not…I definitely saw it in a bookstore in India last month and assumed it was out everywhere…d’oh! I almost bought a copy there, but it was hardcover, and my copy of Sea of Poppies is paperback, and, well, series must match if they live on my shelves. I didn’t realize it’s not really a sequel! I’m even more intrigued now.

  • http://www.bostonbibliophile.com Marie

    I looooooved this book so much . Good luck to all of you on your readalong- you’re in a for a treat! River of Smoke isn’t out here yet where I am but I know i’ll be first in line for it!

    • Erin

      Yeah…it isn’t out here, either, since I’m in the US too! I definitely saw River of Smoke in a bookstore in India when I was there last month and assumed it was out here as well. I almost bought a copy there, but it was hardcover (my Sea of Poppies is paperback) and I like my series to match!

  • http://myreadingbooks.blogspot.com Kailana

    I had this out from the library last year but never got around to reading it. I have heard good things about it.

    • Erin

      That happens to me all the time! Luckily, this was one I’d already purchased. I’m enjoying it so far!

  • http://TheHouseoftheSevenTails Amy

    I’m a little behind you in the reading Erin but I am enjoying the book. I don’t feel as connected to the characters as I’d hoped to feel, possibly because there are a lot of them and some I have some difficulty understanding although I’m having less problems with the language the more I read. I like Deeti and Kalua’s storyline and Paulette”s, Zachary’s and Jodu’s story, too. I’m excited that the storylines are going to converge, too!

    You make a good point about how unrealistic the story sounds: if someone summarized the storylines for me I probably wouldn’t have been that interested in reading the book. But in print Ghosh makes it all work and work well!

    • Erin

      No worries, Amy, take your time! I kind of feel that lack of connection, too. They’re all very real to me, and I can keep them straight, but I don’t really love or hate any of the main characters. Thanks for sharing your reactions so far — I look forward to talking again when we’ve both finished!