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The invasion of the British into the Chinese territory were spearheaded by the opium strategy, and Amitav Ghosh revives the history with the “Sea of Poppies” trilogy

While being in the Oxford for pursuing the doctorate, Amitav Ghosh came across the history of the British invasion into the Chinese arena. It was the opium that the British relied on, and there started the war of the opium for the supremacy over the land. In his ambitious new novel, “Sea of Poppies,” a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, Amitav Ghosh attempts to fill in the blanks left by the archives. Set partly in Bengal, the scene of Grierson’s inquiry, and drawing on accounts the Englishman left, it opens in 1838 on the eve of the Opium Wars. A former slave ship called the Ibis has been refitted to transport coolies from Calcutta to the sugar estates of Mauritius, and for hundreds of pages we watch as its crew and passengers are slowly assembled until it finally gets on its way. The first in a projected trilogy, “Sea of Poppies is big and baggy, a self-styled epic with colossal themes and almost a dozen major characters, including the son of an American slave (who is passing as white), the orphaned daughter of a French botanist (who is passing as a coolie) and an Anglophile raja (who has been wrongly sentenced to a penal colony on Mauritius). But a majority onboard are Indian peasants from the opium-producing countryside, forced by famine or scandal to seek a new life elsewhere. Devoted to reinvention, Ghosh’s plot focuses on one of these villagers: Deeti, a widow who assumes another name and the (lower) caste of a new love as they escape together on the Ibis. There is a glossary of sorts at the back, but after a few exchanges, you get the gist – which is just about what the characters themselves get as they attempt to bridge linguistic impasses. Struggling to decode the strange patois, then slipping into its lilts and rhythms, illuminates how malleable language is, how much we mold and shape it to our own contexts and purposes, and yet so often view it as a rigid structure not to be tampered with. The pidgin tongue isn't always easy reading, but it's certainly fun. A class act that RightBooks.in is proud to host, and your visit to the link at www.rightbooks.in/product_details.asp?pid=9780143066156&Sea%20of%20Poppies places it right before you.

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