Amitav Ghosh’s richly imagined novel, Sea Of Poppies (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26), is based on the historical record. After slavery was abolished in Britain, ship-owners found other ways to obtain workers for large plantations in the West Indies and Africa. They tricked, kidnapped, or, in connivance with local authorities, offered unfortunate people a choice between prison and transport. Ghosh has painted a large and attractive cast of Indians and others who end up on board an old slave ship, the Ibis, bound for Mauritius. Among them are: Deeti, a young woman with second sight; Zachary Reid, one of the crew, son of a Maryland freedwoman; Paulette Lambert, the daughter of the curator of the Botanical Garden; and her best friend from her youth, Jodu, whose mother was her wet nurse. There are some really bad guys too, many of whom, I am happy to say, get their just reward. Luckily, Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy—after almost 500 captivating pages, the story is merely getting started.
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