Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book
Turning his eye to the nineteenth-century opium trade, the acclaimed author
Amitav Ghosh has crafted a novel that is by turns witty and provocative, while
delivering a magnificent historical adventure. An intricate saga, Sea of Poppies
brings together a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts,
have embarked on a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean in the midst of the
Opium Wars between Britain and China. This panorama of characters, including a
mulatto freedman from America, a bankrupt raja, a beautiful, free-spirited
orphan, a widowed tribeswoman, and other disparate members of society, brings to
life a period of colonial upheaval that caused seismic cultural shifts
globe. The events transpiring aboard the Ibis (a former slave ship) provide a
tapestry of a time when the world stood poised to witness some of the most
destructionand most sweeping liberationin the history of humanity.
From the lush poppy fields of the Ganges to the crowded backstreets of Canton,
across a rolling high sea that beckons throughout the narrative, this is a
fateful events you will not soon forget.
- Discuss how the relationships between the various classes of people
Ibis change throughout the novel. To what extent does the caste system
relationships? Which characters undergo the most significant changes?
- How are women's roles different from men's in Sea of Poppies? What common
ground do Deeti, Paulette, and Munia share?
- What does the Ibis represent to Zachary at various points in the novel?
his perception of the ship change as his perception of himself changes?
- Many of the lives Ghosh depicts are shaped by social and political forces
their control. What are some of these forces? Describe some of the
of bravery, defiance, or deception that enable his characters to break free
they see as their fate.
- How do those involved in the opium trade, from British factory owners to
harvesters, justify their work in Sea of Poppies? How does their industry
to modern-day drug trafficking versus the pharmaceutical industry?
- When Mr. Burnham gives religious instruction to Paulette, what does he
about his mindset in general? How does he balance his shame with his
toward suffering, including his notion that slavery somehow yields freedom?
- Discuss the power of love as it motivates the characters. Does obsession
or weaken Baboo Nob Kissin? What kind of love is illustrated when Deeti
her child? What kinds of love does Neel experience in the presence of his
and his fickle mistress?
- What gives Neel the ability to endure Alipore Jail and his subsequent
Does he feel genuine compassion for his cell mate, or is he simply trying to
conditions more livable for himself? Ultimately, who is to blame for Neel's
- How did Paulette's free-spirited upbringing serve her later in life? What
and disadvantages did she have?
- What does Zachary teach Jodu about loyalty and survival? How is trust
among the suspicious Ibis crew?
- To what degree is Mr. Crowle powerless? What does the future hold for
who defied him?
- Which historical aspects of the Opium Wars surprised you the most? What
you discover about colonial India by reading Sea of Poppies?
- Sea of Poppies makes rich use of Asian-influenced English. Some of the
such as bandanna, loot, and dinghy, are still used frequently, but many
bankshall, wanderoo, and chawbuck, are now rare, although they were once
and are included in The Oxford English Dictionary. Discuss the Ibis
which appears at the end of the book. What do Neel's observations suggest
language and culture? Why do you think some words disappear from usage,
others endure? Can a culture's vitality be measured by how eagerly its
absorbs outside influences?
- 14. In an interview with TheBookseller.com, Ghosh stated that "oil is the
today." Do you agree or disagree?
- How does Sea of Poppies reflect themes you have observed in Amitav
previous works? What new issues does he explore in this novel?
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Life of Pi by Yann
Shantaram by Gregory
The Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories
by Lavanya Sankaran
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
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The Death of Vishnu
- The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.