Reading Response to Sea of Poppies

In responding to this novel, I was encouraged to think about the role “space” as a concept plays throughout the novel, and the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that in order to do that, I needed to also think about how the characters in the novel move through and observe space, and how the distinctions made between space and place define the shifting meanings of migrant, exile, and travel. It seems fitting that the book ends with the image of eyes, since eyes are the only part of our body that can travel space and observe a particular place. In a similar way, Deeti’s shrine, both in her home and on the ship, collect images of things and faces that cross many spaces and still are kept together within the confined place of the shrine. The shrine as a metonymy of the ship reflects the powerful roll place has in the “post-colonial,” new English literature, where the experiences and stories, dozens of different voices, must coherently fit within the pages of the novel (and in this way is reminiscent of another space, namely Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of the “contact zone”).

I was reminded of this several times throughout, for example when Neel is telling the story of Ganga-Sagar Island to the others. It happened when the “remembered words” were “strong upon” him (Ghosh 416) and Neel reminded the listeners of this spot, this island, at a different time. The place has a significance beyond its actual being a place of history, for it is a place remembered and a place to get away from, as Deeti hopes they do. “There’s nothing worse than to sit here and feel the land pulling us back.” The power of memory and telling, and the significance it holds for the teller as well as the listener became more apparent to me in a passage that struck me more than any other (390-392). This is when Ah Fatt tells his story to Neel for the first time, after Neel  has just passed his former home, Raskhali, a place that holds more significance for the things done there and the people been with than the space itself. The traveling that happens in an exile’s, or migrant’s mind is articulated most clearly here: “Raskhali was so close that Neel could almost hear the bells of its temple. What he needed now, was to be elsewhere, in a place where he could be free of his memories” (391)… “Thus it happened that while the Ibis was still on the Hooghly, Neel was being transported across the continent, to Canton-“ (391). And the passage continues with ideas about the role of imagination in crossing these spaces, and the role of collaboration as well as claiming a space “as one’s own.”

It is also significant that it is Neel who tells these stories and gives the reader these articulations, since he is also a character who serves as a sort of author figure, and serves in a way as a creator of a contact zone. I could see myself discussing this further in a term paper, but this is probably not the space for that.


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