A 2008 Man Booker Prize nomination , Amitav Ghosh’s eye-opening work of historical fiction touches upon many contemporary social issues.
Set in the pre-Independence, colonial Indian subcontinent, Sea of Poppies by decorated historian and author, Amitav Ghosh is the saga of a phenomenon. In the first installment of the Ibis trilogy, the narrative of the book traces the lives of a diverse set of characters, forced together into complex social set-ups by the opium trade of British colonies with China and a slave-carrying ship.
On the face of it, the book seems only to be characterised by a Dickensian cast and crew that includes an out-of-place American, an opium addict from China and a European girl who’s actually native; but, there is definitely a lot going on under the surface.The book has many unconventional, honest, and raw women characters who break moulds. There’s Deeti, the widow of an addicted opium farmer, who choses and fights for her freedom by marrying outside of her caste after her husband’s death. There’s Paulette, who decides to run away to Mauritius aboard a slave-ship to escape the dire realities of her life back home and there’s Muniya, a young albeit naive girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. These women not only reflect the verity of our sociological growth as a country but also exhibit a deep insight into the kind of lives that women of our land have had.
The book also delves into an exploration of the caste divide in both rural and urban India before Independence and also talks about the rigidity of the society. Panoramic and rich in satire, Ghosh’s writing expresses what we already know in a manner that is opaque yet atrocious. The story-telling is engrossing and well-punctuated by his masterful weaving of local dialects and colloquial slang into the narrative. Painstakingly detailed historical accounts from the 19th century that reflect deep philosophies of an economically strained and colonised nation make the book a delightful read and coerce you to discern the deeper consequences of the historical events of a two hundred year span of imperialism.
With an absolutely appropriate title, Sea of Poppies is a meaningful read for all those interested in historical fiction that provides a lens to look at our nation and society in the contemporary world.
Feature Image Credits:Penguin Random House Canada