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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies

Part of the Ibis Trilogy Series
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The first in the breathtaking trilogy on the history of the opium wars. This starts just before in a time of colonial upheaval, the 1830s. Full of minutiae, strong characters and vivid images, this sweeps you through a fascinating period peopled with some very alive characters indeed, a motley bunch on an old slaving ship, the Ibis. Some Indian, some European, rich, poor, needy and independent with plenty of stories to tell, plenty of lives to become entangled in and totally bewitching. A rich and absorbing novel which has developed in to an addictive, moving trilogy not to be missed. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008.

The Ibis Trilogy:
1. Sea of Poppies
2. River of Smoke
3. Flood of Fire

If you like Amitav Ghosh you might also like to read books by Tash Aw, Rohinton Mistry and Vikram Seth.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.  You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Edel Waugh - 'The book is pure escapism.... Intrepid adventures and dangerous journeys on the high sea make this an almost sensory experience as it is described so well.'
  • Phylippa Smithson - 'Sea of Poppies, the first in a trilogy, has left me immediately seeking River of Smoke such was the engaging, entertaining and very informative writing style of the author.'
  • Wendy Stubbs - 'A well-written lovely story which gently ends leading the reader up to the second book of the trilogy as we follow Deeti on her life's adventures.  A thoroughly recommended and equally compelling read. So good I read it twice!'
  • Magdalena Vidgen - 'Brilliant book that gives you an insight into people's lives in India at the beginning of 19th century.'
  • Angie Rhodes - 'From the very first page you are swept up and away into an exciting story.' 
  • Anita Wallas - 'A truly mesmerising mix of history, fact and fiction, I didn't want the story to end.'
  • Helen Skinner - 'A long, detailed but very entertaining novel with a diverse cast of memorable characters.  A great start to the Ibis Trilogy!'
  • Barbara Goldie - 'Vivid descriptions, strong characters and a great sense of time and place really bring this book to life!'
  • Jan Kirkcaldy - 'I did enjoy it and hoped it was as accurate in many ways as it appeared well researched.'
  • Cherrill Deans - 'A novel rich in character, robust and vivid in a dingy world...Amitav Gosh is a master of words, and a fine storyteller.'


Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races and generations. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, which makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive - a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists.


'Sea of Poppies Boasts a varied collection of characters to love and hate, and provides wonderfully detailed descriptions of opium production ... utterly involving and piles on tension until the very last page'
Peter Parker, Sunday Times

'A glorious babel of a novel ... marvellously inventive ... utterly involving ... The next volume cannot come too soon'
Sunday Times

'An utterly involving book'
Sunday Times

'This is a panoramic adventure story, with a Dickensian energy and scope'
Sunday Telegraph

'Ghosh's narrative is enriched with a wealth of historical detail ... as well as intricate characterisation that makes interaction among the diverse group truly absorbing'
The Times

'There can be fewer more exciting settings for a novel than a sea-tossed sailing ship ... Ghosh piles detail upon detail in a rumbustical adventure'
The Times

'Ripping post-colonial yarn ... Ghosh spins a fine story with a quite irresistible flow, breathing exuberant life ... an absorbing vision'

'A remarkably rich saga'

'Each scene is boldly drawn, but it is the sheer energy and verve of Amitav Ghosh's storytelling that binds this ambitious medley'
Daily Mail

'This is a corker'

'Ghosh turns the ship into something robustly, bawdily and indelibly real ... a plot of Dickensian intricacy'
New York Times

'A master of fiction'

'A richly drawn cast of characters ... gilded with expertly-mined historical detail'
Sunday Business Post

'The fantastic Anglo-Asian language they speak is infectious, and the sombre yet uncertain conclusion leaves one eager for the second novel in the trilogy'
Daily Telegraph

'A captivating cast ... Ghosh's saga is enriched with a blizzard of Laskari- and Hindi-derived words that add irrepressible energy to the narrative'

'Beautifully written, this totally absorbing novel will leave you eagerly awaiting a second instalment'
She Magazine

About the Author

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh was born in India and spent his childhood in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and northern India. He was educated in Delhi, Oxford and Egypt and has taught in a number of Indian and American universities. He is the author of a travel book and three novels. His work has appeared in publications worldwide, including the New Yorker, the Observer and the New York Times. He is married with two children and lives in New York.

Author photo © Dayanita Singh - Dream Villa Production

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Book Info

Publication date

16th April 2009


Amitav Ghosh

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John Murray Publishers Ltd an imprint of John Murray General Publishing Division


544 pages


Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction



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