|JOHN MURRAY PUBLISHERS|
the observer Sat 18 April 2009
The first in a promised trilogy and shortlisted for last year's Booker, Sea of Poppies gets across its message - that the unlikeliest of people can end up in the same boat - by doing just that, putting a cross-section of classes, castes, religions, sexes and nationalities of 1830s India aboard the one vessel. Ghosh isn't one to wear his historical research lightly, and for all the nautical lexicon and pidgin English clipped from Victorian journals ("Cunchunees whirling and tickytaw boys beating their tobblers"), his account of life on the Ibis, a slave-turned-opium-turned-slave ship, is unatmospheric. For a childish adventure yarn, it's tiring at 500 pages and it's hard to give a stuff about the shallow characters' fate on the "Black Water" to the Bay of Bengal.