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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Sea of Poppies is set in India in 1838 just before the first Opium War. A disparate group of people leaving behind their pasts find their way to the Ibis, an ex-slave-trading ship bound for Madagascar with its cargo of coolie indentured servants and criminals. On board is Deeti, who was saved from her opium-addicted husband's funeral pyre, a bankrupt raja convicted of fraud, and a second mate, Zachary, who is the son of a freed American slave. As they set sail with a captain who'd rather smoke opium, a disaffected crew, the passengers mix language, cultures, and identities looking for a new start on life. The Opium Wars, however, aren't the only storm on the horizon for the Ibis. Amitav Ghosh's novel has received mixed reviews with The Independent saying, "Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, the first volume in his 'Ibis trilogy', revisits in new, breathtakingly detailed and compelling ways some of the concerns of his earlier novels. Among these are the incessant movements of the peoples, commerce, and empires which have traversed the Indian Ocean since antiquity; and the lives of men and women with little power, whose stories, framed against the grand narratives of history, invite other ways of thinking about the past, culture and identity."