At the Opium Factory

David Simpson

  • Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
    Murray, 544 pp, £7.99, April 2009, ISBN 978 0 7195 6897 8

For some time the Anglophone publishing industry has been keen on the fiction of the global south, at least when it takes the form of magical realism, where the paranormal is staged as the ordinary and the imagination is freed from the familiar laws of gravity. Here, in the (to us) remote corners of the undeveloped or developing world, the colours, smells and flavours are more intense, life is more meaningful and death less absolute than in the grey industrial or post-industrial landscapes of the north, the cradle of modernity and modern empires. Some have proposed Joyce’s Ulysses as an inspiration for magical realism, but in the second half of the 20th century the genre became more and more tropical in its associations. If the city is where readers of these books are most often to be found, the books themselves tend to be set in the village and the jungle, as in the exemplary magical-realist ‘world novel’, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), which was written in one ‘world’ language (Spanish) and translated into another, English, three years after its first appearance.

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