Just a quick note: Be sure to vote for your November Reading Buddies pick in the sidebar if you haven’t done so already! I’ll be announcing November’s book next Friday.
Now, on with the Reading Buddies wrap-up for Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh! It was certainly a long book, and it took me nearly the whole month to get through, but I did end up enjoying it.
Beware: the rest of this post contains spoilers!
We left off last time about midway through the book, so I’ll pick up with the second half. The various characters, already drawing slowly together, finally all arrived in one place and were thrown together aboard the Ibis.
I loved the way Ghosh brought all the stories together. I thought it was so cool how we got to see the process of preparing and boarding the ship from different perspectives: an officer (Zachary), a migrant (Deeti), a stowaway (Paulette), a crewman (Jodu), a prisoner (Neel), a company representative (Baboo Nob Kissin)…did I miss anyone?? Having those various perspectives on the same events gave Ghosh amazing flexibility. And since we already knew everyone by the time the characters all meet on the ship, there was no background information to stand in the way of the story. It took a lot of pages to get to that point, but I’m thinking it was worth it.
As several readers have pointed out, the language was, at times, a bit of work, since Ghosh tossed in copious amounts of foreign terms without ever really defining them. I did think this became a little easier as I got used to Ghosh’s vocabulary — words started at least looking familiar and so slowing me down less — but I never really felt totally comfortable. Do you think his heavy reliance on foreign terms added to the story, or did it just make the novel harder to read?
I was absolutely not expecting Sea of Poppies to end the way it did. As the number of unread pages dwindled and the sea voyage wore on, I realized we wouldn’t get to see the ship’s destination in this first installment of the story. I’m not sure I would call it a cliffhanger, since Ghosh gave us some foreshadowing that things would work out, like when he mentioned earlier the generations that would descend from Kalua. But goodness, what a place to leave off! I especially loved the final paragraph, where the story came full circle. I just about got chills.
There are a couple of things I’d noted down to look up, and I thought I’d share my findings with you. The first is the phrase “under weigh,” which turned up a few times in Sea of Poppies in connection with ships. When I read it the first time, I was struck by how much it sounds like “underway” and made a note to investigate further. Turns out the two phrases mean the same thing. Here are a few excerpts from Phrases.org tracing the phrase’s origins:
“‘Way’ doesn’t mean here road or route but has the specifically nautical meaning of ‘the forward progress of a ship though the water’, or the wake that the ship leaves behind. Way has been used like that since at least the 17th century.”
“‘[U]nder’ was originally ‘on the’…. ‘On the way’ migrated to ‘underway’, probably due to the influence of the Dutch word ‘onderweg’, which translates into English as ‘underway’ but to 17th century sailors must have sounded more like ‘on the way’.”
“The term ‘weigh anchor’, and the fact that when ships are loaded with cargo and ready to sail they are weighed down, has led to the phrase being written as ‘under weigh’.”
Kind of interesting, no? I love discovering how idioms and phrases came into being, so this was a fun discovery for me.
Second, I was very curious about what a bore wave was after reading the scene where Jodu and Zachary end up riding out one such wave in the river. According to Wikipedia, a bore is “a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travel up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current.” They are apparently rather turbulent and produce a rumbling sound. I couldn’t find a concise video of a bore wave, but here’s my favorite of the ones I found:
I had no idea these existed. Have you ever experienced one?
Well, now that we’ve reached the end, I suppose the final judge of how well you liked Sea of Poppies is: will you be picking up River of Smoke? I actually wasn’t planning to until I finished Sea of Poppies, but now I’d really like to. What about you?
Other readers’ thoughts: