I intended to stop reading Amitav Ghosh’s novels once I finished digesting the first of his Ibis trilogy, “Sea of Poppies”. But after I completed reading “The Hungry Tide” now I refresh my willingness to read all of his books. Quite surprising, I don’t really like “Sea of Poppies” although I honestly say the book is so rich and comprehensive. You can find abundant unique vocabulary from the characters in the book. You can understand language of lascars. The book can widen your imagination on what life really like inside a huge ship like Ibis. And definitely, you can learn how old opium trade brings life to so many people in India.
To a certain point, what I love most from “Sea of Poppies” is that Ghosh uses firm language to put forward strength instead of weakness of major characters in the book. I’d love to read how such a fragile character like Dheeti is powerful enough to bounce back after so much sufferings in her life. This is very different with the language used in “The Glass Palace” where almost all characters seem weak, mellow, and too serious.
I prefer to read “The Glass Palace” somehow. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed imagining old life in Burma, India, and countries in Southeast Asia better than early opium trade. Both books contain wonderful history lessons and detailed places. That is one of the reasons why I love Ghosh’s novels. He admits travelling and researching are key points in his fictions. He can spend years to travel, meet a lot of people, and do library and archives research before writing a book. No wonder, I feel like learning history in a more fantastic way every time I read his books.
For me, “Sea of Poppies” is quite hard. The language, the description, even the theme itself is heavy on its own. To all of this, I give credit to Ghosh. Brutal descriptions are quite vivid, too. So reading the book leaves me a bit of mixed feeling.
“The Glass Palace”, on the other hand, brings a lighter issue. Perhaps I choose the book as my most favorite of all due to its easy language. Common themes, such as family relationship, identured people, faith, and love relationship, are easy to digest as well.
“The Hungry Tide” is so abundant in settings. I can imagine the beauty of islands alongside the Sundabans through this book. What I like more from the book is that Ghosh brings up local wisdom from uneducated people on their struggle to tame wild nature and animals. He even includes a folklore that may be ridiculous from modern men but still widely-believed by local residents. Such a smart scientist like Piyali Roy must admit she is nothing compared to illiterate Fokir when it comes to natural observation.
By far, “The Glass Palace” tops my choice. But this may change since I still have yet to read earlier Ghosh’s books such as “The Circle of Reason,” The Shadow Lines,” and “Calcutta Chromosome”. His newest book, “River of Smoke” should be into my to-be-read list books.
For information, Ghosh divides his time in India and New York. Husband of famous editor Deborah Baker, the couple is blessed with two children. Ghosh seriously began writing in his 20s. His books have been awarded some awards and captured worldwide readers. He also teaches at the Columbia University.
He has yet to win Man Booker Prize like Arundhati Roy and Aravind Adiga. “Sea of Poppies” are shortlisted for the prestigious prize in 2008. Unlike Jhumpa Lahiri, he hasn’t won the Pulitzer Prize. But Ghosh produces more books compared to his counterparts. His ideas are more various. Jhumpa stresses more on self-identity in her books and short stories collection. Aravind speaks more on social issues whereas Arundhati loves examining Indian culture. Ghosh’s stories tell more than that.