Friday, August 28, 2009

Sailing the Open Sea

Sea of Poppies by Indian author Amitov Ghosh is a very weird and wonderful book--weird because this epic saga spends most of its pages building a cast of oddly interconnected characters, and wonderful because these numerous characters are the most colorful and intriguing ones I have ever met. I will admit that it is difficult to keep them all straight. There are many, and they have unusual names (to this American, English-speaking reader anyway) that simply do not roll off the tongue. But they are incredibly well drawn, unique, endearing (some), and appalling (others). The language had me laughing out loud at times--some of the characters speak a language that is a rough combination of English, shipboard slang, and probably some Farsi or Bengali or Bhurundi thrown in. Even if you don't understand the exact words, you know exactly what they meant to say by the context. This author is very skilled at dialogue and at helping you understand what is going on, even if the character is speaking nonsense. The story begins upriver from Calcutta, at the beginning of a journey of the sailing ship the Ibis and takes us down the Ganges and out to the open sea. The Opium Wars have begun, so the Ibis is substituting its normal load of opium with a different cargo this time--coolies to work the plantations on the Mauritius Islands, and convicts to be interred at the prison at Port Louis. I waited to read this book for a long time, because apparently the publisher could not keep up with the demand. The author intends this to be the first in a trilogy, the Ibis trilogy, and I simply can't wait for the next one. I won't give away the ending, but when it comes, you will slam the book shut and immediately call your local librarian to see when the second in the series is coming out. I'll save you that step and tell you: October 2010.