Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading travels: Passenger on the Ibis



South Asia: month I, travel I, first book review:




Is there a better way to start a reading travel other than reaping from a book that was sown on a multitude of travel stories ?The book starts with Deeti as she has "the vision of the tall-masted ship" and the travel of Ibis from Baltimore to Calcutta and farther...*

The Sea of Poppies is nor traveling book, nor a book about travels; as the story carries us beyond the travels and transformations of the schooner Ibis, once a slave ship which lost its utility and value when slavery was legally abolished. The schooner is then bought by an English merchant in order to be used in the latest flourishing trade: the exports of opium from India to China and England. And, as it travels to Calcutta, the current owners ' headquarters, many sailors will board on and leave the Ibis, but one, Zachary, who stays. Zachary enrolled as a carpenter but a series of unfortunate events raised his rank to the one of second mate or Malum as the South-Asian lascars would call their white officers. Just that Zachary isn't quite … * So, the Sea of Poppies is as much about the Ibis as it is a story about Zachary or a story about the ways in which growing and trafficking opium shaped the Indian culture and economy during the British Raj.
The core concept of the book seems to be drawn from the 18th century novel –the Age of Reason and Change; and it is not just a mere coincidence that this is also a story about Paulette, the tomboy educated under the percepts of Voltaire and the Indian creeds of her ayah. And the Sea of Poppies is also the story of Neel, the Raja, who at first does not seem to strain far from his Brahmin upbringing, even though he's more a scholar to Locke and Hume than he is to the Brahmin priests. And as in any classic 18th century story[1], the traveling adventures of the main characters are not only going to change their geographic coordinates but are also the start point for a deeper metamorphosis as they come to realizethat beyond the social, racial, religious and cultural differences setting us apart, we are after all the same, all travelers on the Ibis, that is:
“ Whatever there is within us-whether good, or bad , or neither – its existence will continue uninterrupted, will it not, no matter what the drape of our clothes, or the colour of our skin?”(p.459)
However, Ghosh's writing skills, or mastery, are shown in the way he gives a new life to the novelistic style of the Age of Reason and Change , for the Sea of Poppies with its many storytelling voices and intertwined stories does not draw a clear path, nor does it press judgment and push a lifestyle as being the proper one. And the historical authenticity of this story is not supported by a factual veridicality or by stressing the accuracy of description as if attempting to freeze the Indian landscape, people and customs in the 1830s. Nor is there a claim to strict realism in the way in which the characters are portrayed. The historical authenticity of the novel is asserted by its language, by the words that "no less than people are endowed with lives and destinies of their own"[2]







*…not that it is much of a mystery there, but why spoil it in case you decide to read the book.
[1]...First Tom Jones came to my mind, but than it seemed more Robinson Crusoeish
[2] Excerpt from the Ibis Crestomathy

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Ana said...

Anon,
well thanks, I'm not much of a reviewr though. I'll try - now that I joined the challenge...

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for the review - this is on my TBR for the SAAC too. I read Glass Palace by Ghosh last year and really liked it.

Good luck with the the challenge and I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

Ana said...

thanks for the comment -you will not regeret reading this book.

mel u said...

I just completed my post on this book-I agree it does have an old fashioned feel to it which I really ejoyed, both in the prose and in the plotting of the work. I waited until I read the book to read your very insightful post on the book

My review of Sea of Poppies

I have linked to your review on my post-

Ana said...

mel thank you for the comment and the link:). I'll keep track of your blog too...

mel u said...

Ana-have you read any other of the authors works?

Ana said...

this author? No, it is the first novel by Ghosh I am reading. But I will have to find time to read his other writings. In fact, I am afraid I am just getting acquainted with the South Asian literature...Before I came to US, other than some retakes on the big epic stories I only read Maitreyi Devi's reply to the Bengal Nights (It Does Not Die) and Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh. And of course Kipling, but he was not South Asian...

mel u said...

I just completed my first Salman Rushdie work, The Enchantress of Florence-will be posting on it soon-

Julie said...

Hi, Ana. This sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review. I will add it to my reading list.

Ana said...

@mel
I'll look forward to it
@Julie
yes, it does deserve to be put in the to read list