Book Twenty-Eight: Sea of Poppies

sea of poppies


My second Amitav Ghosh book of the year, this week I read Sea of Poppies. I saw this week, but actually it took me a bit longer than a week – and I am a little behind on my challenge, but I do hope to catch up and meet my target of 52 books this year, do not worry!

Sea of Poppies is set in 1830’s north India and Calcutta – a time when the British were about to wage war on China in order to control the world’s supply of opium. A crew of motley characters from across the world find themselves aboard the Ibis, a slaving schooner that has been brought by the wealthy British merchant Benjamin Burnham. Ghosh brings together a cast from all walks of life: Deeti and Kalua, who have eloped and fled the opium fields of north India; Zachary, an American with parents of mixed heritage, who finds himself second mate of the Ibis; Paulette, a French woman brought up by her botanist father and an Indian wet nurse, who does not understand the social etiquette of being a memsahib; Baboo Nob Kissin, a Bengali ‘fixer’ who is convinced that Zachary is the reincarnation of Shiva and believes himself to be possessed by a holy woman and Raja Neel Rattan, a wealthy landowner who unable to pay his debts to Benjamin Burnham, has been convicted of fraud. These colourful characters and more, all find themselves on board the Ibis travelling to Mauritius – some as coolies destined for work, some as prisoners, one as a stowaway and the rest as crew. This is the story of the voyage and the back stories of a cast of characters from all walks of life. Every story is fascinating, every character engaging. Ghosh has succeeding in bringing a multitude of lives and stories together – a fascinating read that is all absorbing and rich with intrigue. 

I really enjoyed this book, particularly for it’s scope. It’s not just one story but many. I’m pleased to discover that it’s the first book of a trilogy – and the cliff hanger ending is temptingly inviting me to read more Amitav Ghosh when I can get my hands on it! I really recommend this author if you ever get the chance to read some of his work.


As for cooking – well I knew that I would have to cook something poppy seed related! However, rather than going for the easy and tasty poppy seed cake option, I tried to find an Indian recipe and stumbled across this:

Mixed Vegetable Curry – by Madhur Jaffrey

You will need:

  • ½ an aubergine

  • 2 small carrots

  • 100g green beans

  • 1 medium-sized potato

  • 50g desiccated unsweetened coconut 

  • 4 green chillies

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 tbsp white poppy seeds (I found these in the local cornershop)

  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes

  • 1 tbsp plain yoghurt

  • 1 tsp garam masala

  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves

To make:

1. Firstly you need to reconstitute your coconut – do this by pouring boiling water over it and leaving it to soak for around an hour.

2. Peel and chop all the veg and then place the aubergine, carrots, potato and beans in a pan and cover with 250ml water. Cook until tender.

3. Meanwhile place the coconut (it should have fluffed up by now), the chillies, the poppy seeds and 150ml water in a food processor and then whiz into a paste.

4. Once veg are lightly cooked, add the coconut paste and cook for a few mins. 

5. Add the tomatoes, the yogurt and the garam masala and then simmer and reduce the sauce.

6. Once all the veg are cooked through, serve and scatter with the coriander leaves.

This curry was tasty and light – but be careful not to add too much water as I did or you’ll end up cooking it for ages to get the sauce to reduce! I also recommend grinding the poppy seeds first if possible because it was a little bit grainy. Worth a go though!



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