As someone who owns a signed copy of the Ibis trilogy in hardcover, I know it may sound a bit patronising to recommend that you purchase the ebook version of The Sea of Poppies. But as someone who owns the Ibis series in hardcover, let me just tell say, reading these books comfortably is quite a workout. Of course, if they’re signed by Amitav Ghosh, and you’re in desperate need of some definition in your shoulders, the hard copies are totally worth the effort.
However, if I was one of those people who has one set of books for show and another for wear and tear, I would purchase the trilogy on the Kindle as well. It’s just more comfortable to read and convenient to take on the bus, train, across the universe, the works! But I’m not rich or snooty enough to justify such duality in my reading habits so I’ll just stick to my hard copies – they’re signed! Did I mention that? – and leave it to you to decide between hardcopy and ebook.
Sea of Poppies is one of the best books I’ve read inside and most definitely outside of Indian Literature. The first in the Ibis trilogy, it transports us to the period of India’s burgeoning opium cultivation and trade which rendered the British extremely rich and the Indian farmer destitute. With this historic backdrop, Sea of Poppies introduces us to a slew of fascinating characters caught in the midst of this – from the grey eyed Deeti who sees the Ibis in her dreams way before she has even seen the ocean, to Babu Nob Kissin, who is convinced the ship’s second mate, an American named Zachary Reed, is a reincarnation of Lord Krishna. There’s also Raja Neel Rattan Haldar, whose family lives opulently but can barely manage to hide the fact that they have indeed fallen on hard and troubling times. And the most fascinating of them all is Paulette Lambert, the daughter of a French botanist, raised by a Bengali Muslim wet nurse, who uses her Indian upbringing to her advantage when she wants to escape the manipulative, but very influential family, who takes her in after her father’s death.
What I love about the book is how vividly it paints India in the 1800s. At one point you can actually smell the opium factories, with their listless workers waist deep in the stuff, churning it around continually. You can actually visualise the old port of Calcutta, bringing in ships like the Ibis and little boats like the one Paulette was born in, to dock in stability before returning to the fearsome seas again. It’s also fascinating to read about the opium trade, production and the lives that it wrecked on one hand and made rich and powerful on the other. Through the journey of the Ibis we also get to read about lives on freights during that period and a bit about the slave trade.
I’ve read this book twice and am currently crawling through River of Smoke. Honestly, I truly love that my books are personally autographed – I stood in very long lines to make that happen! But if I were you, I would totally go for the ebook over the hardcopy just because of how convenient they are to lug around everywhere you go because believe me, this isn’t the kind of series you can put down too easily.
This isn’t a review. It’s part of a series I call The Saturday eReader which focuses on recommending a different ebook every weekend. Read more posts from the series here.