Sunday, 14 June 2009

Roses and recent reading


Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh impressed me - I much look forward to the next volume in the trilogy. Set in the 1830s before the first Opium War (where the British East India Company fought to be allowed to continue to export opium from India to China, I'm afraid), it's a wonderful ambitious long rollicking read about the voyage of the Ibis and her passengers. One complication is that some of the initial dialogue is in a weird form of English spoken by the Brits in Calcutta and in a pidgin spoken by the lascar sailors. This, along with the Indian words, makes for slow reading but I soon became accustomed to it. I thought of downloading the glossary from the website but rebelled when I found it was 20 pages long.

The characterisation is excellent. You root for Deeti, the opium-growing Indian widow rescued from committing suti by a lower-caste man. You root for Zachary, the upwardly mobile young American seaman, whose mother was a freed slave, and you root for the girl he loves, Paulette. And you care for Neel, the rajah sent to prison. All these people find themselves on board the Ibis, way out of their normal social milieu, and in grave danger from tropical storms and the malevolent 1st Mate. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I've just finished an earlier book by Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide. Again this is a worthy book and focuses on desperately poor Bengalis living on reclaimed islands on the edge of the Ganges delta. Though it's most thoroughly researched and the end is dramatic, it didn't grip me nearly as much. Maybe I found the main female character just a little dull. She's an American scientist (of Calcutta origins) who is really only interested in river dolphins. She is a conservationist, of course, and the impoverished local people can't understand why she and the Westerners think that tigers and trees are more important than children.

Moving from the heat of India to north of Aberdeen, as you do....On holiday I read Sophia's Secret by Susanna Kearsley. (blurb: A sympathetic modern writer finds herself remembering events in the early eighteenth century and fears she is going mad.) I don't usually read historical novels, unless they are set in India or some other country that interests me, but I did enjoy this one. Again there's plenty of thorough research - this time into the failed Scottish rebellion of 1708. As an Englishwoman, I can't quite agree with the politics of the historic hero and heroine, but it's all good stuff and well written. The cover is girly and misleading, and would have put me off, but luckily the book was recommended by several friends, and I didn't find the lost-memories plot too far fetched.

7 comments:

liz fenwick said...

It's funny how a cover can make or break the decision on buying a book - so difficult to get it just right!

Your roses look so beautiful. Not long until I see my own.
lx

callmemadam said...

How interesting! I got half way through The Hungry Tide then put it aside. Beautifully written but as you say, not really gripping. I will finish it, though!

Debs said...

Such a beautiful photo, I love those colours.

These books sound interesting. My grandmother was born in India when her father was stationed there with the 17th Lancers. Maybe I should read more books based there too.

cheshire wife said...

My father spent part of WWII in India and Ceylon. I would love to know more about that part of the world. Must try to read some of these books.

Susie Vereker said...

Re books about India, if you want to start with something less complicated and more Raj than Amitav Ghosh, there's Julia Gregson's East of the Sun, MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions, and Rumer Godden's Kingfishers Catch Fire, etc. I also read and enjoyed The Mutiny by Julian Rathbone.

Karen said...

I enjoyed Sea of Poppies too, but more importantly I've just noticed a gorgeous cover to the right, which means you have a new book coming out - hurrah! Looking forward to reading it :o)

Lorna F said...

I haven't tried Amitav Ghosh yet but with regard to books set in India, I love J.G. Farrell's 'The Siege of Krishnapur', Ruth Prawar Jhabvala's 'Heat and Dust' and Paul Scott's 'Staying On'.