Amitav Ghosh at Elliott Bay Books

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a reading by Amitav Ghosh at Elliot Bay Books where he read from his new book, Sea of Poppies. He read a long and funny passage from the book the that was part political discussion about the rightness of the opium trade and part comedy of manners which ended in a hilarious description of oral sex. It sounds well worth the read.

When he took questions he made a couple of interesting points. One, unlike the maritime history of the United States, Britain, and other western countries, the maritime history of Asia doesn’t exist. Sure there are histories from the western officer class that manned the ships, but there is nothing like Two Years Before the Mast or Red Beard. There is not even an oral tradition. It is a big hole in the history. Second, he compared Indians of the 19th century to the Africans of the 17th and 18th century. Each was taken from their homeland and put into a condition of enslavement or indenturement. But unlike the slave narratives like Olaudah Equiano’s early account to the more famous by Frederick Douglas, there are no narratives of the Asian sailors. Ghosh sees part of what he is doing is to rediscover the missing history, not as a historian who has to focus on one little section, but as a novelist who can create a broader portrait of the time.

You can also hear a interview with him on NPR.