First Sentence: The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?
Before deciding to read this book it’s good to know that it is part of a trilogy and parts two and three of The Ibis Trilogy, as it is known, have yet to be published. What I’m saying is if you’re the type of person who needs closure in a story maybe you should wait a few years and read them all together, because on its own this book offers little in the way of closure. It is, however, incredibly engrossing. The Ibis is the ship Deeti has the vision of at the beginning of the book and eventually she will go on board this ship (after being rescued from her opium-addicted husband’s funeral pyre by the low-caste Kalua, who will accompany her on her journey). Also joining her on this voyage in the ‘Black Water’ will be; Paulette, the orphaned daughter of a French Botanist; Neel, a bankrupt raja who loses his family and everything he owns; Jodu, the son of Paulette’s wet-nurse, and many others. And that’s not even mentioning Serang Ali (leader of the deck hands [or laskars as they are known]), Ah Fatt (dishevelled Chinese opium addict), Zachary Reid (Mulatto son of a Maryland freedwoman) or any of the others already on the Ibis. Set against the backdrop of the opium wars, opium itself is practically seeping through every page of this epic. There is one scene which sums it up beautifully, as Deeti ponders an opium seed:
She looked at the seed as if she had never seen one before, and suddenly she knew it was not the planet above that governed her life: it was this minuscule orb – at once bountiful and all-devouring, merciful and destructive, sustaining and vengeful.
She then puts the seed in her mouth and says to Kalua:
Here[...], taste it. It is the star that took us from our homes and put us on this ship. It is the planet that rules our destiny.
Opium has, in one way or another, led them all to this place, and when all these characters are thrust together on the same ship we just know a special tale is about to unfold. Their previous lives are insignificant now that the Ibis is their home:
[...]all the old ties were immaterial now that the sea had washed away their past[...]
Yet again Deeti sums it up best when she finally lays eyes on the ship and realises:
[...] her new self, her new life, had been gestating all this while in the belly of this creature, this vessel was the Mother-Father of her new family[...] an adoptive ancestor and parent of dynasties yet to come.
This is the beginning of something epic…
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