In The Armchair

Sea of Poppies

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 1, 2008

sea_of_poppiesI’m really enjoying Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. Ghosh is one of those writers who seems to write some very good books and some very pedestrian ones. Like I said before, his prose is prosaic, so to speak, and lacks the kind of flair achieved by Salman Rushdie and attempted by Arundhati Roy. It’s very correct, but I found it a bit too bland in The Glass Palace.


Sea of Poppies is a book that Just Works. You don’t notice the blandness of the prose because you are dazzled by the profusion of archaic and obscure yet deliciously recognizable words that Ghosh keeps weaving into the conversations and sentences in this book. This book is worth reading for the language alone.

One of the greatest things about Ghosh, and I noted this in my review of his book, The Hungry Tide, is his ability to let a story tell itself. He doesn’t try to force his opinions down the reader’s throat, something that some other authors do, sometimes quite directly through infodumps and at other times obtusely through conversations or events in their books. Ghosh tells the story with an even keel, and you can make your own judgements. This is true of Sea of Poppies.

Another thing I really appreciate about this book is it’s not targeted at Euramericans. A great many Indian authors, presumably worried about their bottom lines, write exactly what the fashionable parts of the West want to hear: exaggerated stories of caste conflict, language that’s carefully non-heathen and uses Western idioms instead of Indian ones. Ghosh eschews all that. Nothing against Euramerican-style literature, but it’s nice to see a more Indian flavour in a book. Although you might guess at the meanings of half the archaic words in the book without a knowledge of Hindi, those who do know Hindi can understand it better. This is a real Indian book.

And unlike some other authors, Ghosh doesn’t sugarcoat the problems the British created. In Sea of Poppies, Ghosh brings out the terrible privations that British Rule forced upon India. There are Brits who still persist in the belief that British Rule wasn’t a disaster for India, and reading this book would quickly disabuse them of such notions.

I’m halfway through the book. Let’s hope the rest of the book retains these qualities.

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