Anil's Ghost

Anil's Ghost

Book - 2000
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Following the phenomenal success of Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient , expectations were almost insurmountable. The internationally acclaimed #1 bestseller had made Ondaatje the first Canadian novelist ever to win the Booker. Four years later, in 1996, a motion picture based on the book brought the story to a vast new audience. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, went on to win numerous prizes, among them nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Worldwide English-language sales of the book topped two million copies.

But in April 2000, Anil's Ghost was widely hailed as Ondaatje's most powerful and engrossing novel to date. Winning a Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and the Giller Prize, Anil's Ghost became an international bestseller. "Nowhere has Ondaatje written more beautifully," said The New York Times Book Review .

The setting is Sri Lanka. Steeped in centuries of cultural achievement and tradition, the country has been ravaged in the late twentieth century by bloody civil war. As in The English Patient , Ondaatje's latest novel follows a woman's attempt to piece together the lost life of a victim of war. Anil Tissera, born in Sri Lanka but educated in England and the U.S., is sent by an international human rights group to participate in an investigation into suspected mass political murders in her homeland. Working with an archaeologist, she discovers a skeleton whose identity takes Anil on a fascinating journey that involves a riveting mystery. What follows, in a novel rich with character, emotion, and incident, is a story about love and loss, about family, identity and the unknown enemy. And it is a quest to unlock the hidden past -- like a handful of soil analyzed by an archaeologist, the story becomes more diffuse the farther we reach into history.

A universal tale of the casualties of war, unfolding as a detective story, the book gradually gives way to a more intricate exploration of its characters, a symphony of loss and loneliness haunted by a cast of solitary strangers and ghosts. The atrocities of a seemingly futile, muddled war are juxtaposed against the ancient, complex and ultimately redemptive culture and landscape of Sri Lanka.

Anil's Ghost is Michael Ondaatje's first novel to be set in the country of his birth. "There's a tendency with us in England and North America to say it's a book 'about Sri Lanka.' But it's just my take on a few characters, a personal tunnelling into that … The book's not just about Sri Lanka; it's a story that's very familiar in other parts of the world" -- in Africa, in Yugoslavia, in South America, in Ireland. "I didn't want it to be a political tract. I wanted it to be a human study of people in the midst of fear."
Publisher: c2000.
ISBN: 9780676973617
Branch Call Number: FIC Ondaa

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b
booksphinx
Feb 06, 2015

Like the reader, Pisinga, I also struggled with the structure of this book.

I wanted so much to like this three times award-winning novel. When I first struggled with the disjointed, stream of consciousness type writing, I thought I should just bite my lip and struggle on - maybe it would get better later.

Anil was the main character in the story and try as I might to feel some affection or empathy for her, I just couldn't. She seemed self-absorbed, a little manipulative/cruel, occasionally sexual (not a minus, but seemed out-of-place somehow), callous and cold. Maybe I am misunderstanding her. She seemed like a black sheep. I get that a certain amount of distance and dark humor helps in a profession like hers, but she was particularly "cool". Almost like a - well, almost like a "ghost".

Maybe that's where the author was going with this...

In any case, getting through the book was a chore. Lots of complicated third person narrative like this:

"Archaeology lives under the same rules as the Napoleonic Code. The point was not that he would ever be proved wrong in his theories, but that he could not prove he was right. Still, the patterns that emerged for Palipana had begun to coalesce. They linked hands. They allowed walking across water, they allowed a leap from treetop to treetop. The water filled a cut alphabet and linked this shore and that. And so the unprovable truth emerged."

Beautiful, in the way some poetry is beautiful, but 307 pages of this and it gets a little hard-going.

Perhaps on a second read-through, I would understand more of what was going on in this story, but I don't think I'm going to revisit this book in a hurry. I'd be interested to read other books by Ondaatje to see if they read any better - or if they have more relatable characters.

All in all, this book had a few moments of exquisite beauty/compelling tragedy which seemed to snuff themselves out quickly. Finding relatable moments or characters in this book was like trying to find only strawberry centres in a packet of Bridge Mixture: hardly an 'unpleasant' experience and I could appreciate the other pieces, but ultimately I was left feeling unsatisfied, as this book contained too little of the things I would usually like in a story.

p
Pisinga
Jan 29, 2012

I did not like the structure of the book: some fragments of fragments. Suddenly question arises: Who is that and what he does in the pages of the story?
I didn’t like Anil’s character.

Perhaps for someone is not a burden to say names of the characters, but it is difficult to pronounce them (if you try).

Those who are familiar with the history of Sri Lanka will nderstand much more than the first time introducers to it, like me.

Despite the fact that the author is trying to be neutral with respect to all parties in the conflict that is leading to the insane destruction of people, there is still somehow a feeling that his sympathy for the guerrillas and insurgents is more than to the government’s army. It is difficult to judge, not being more familiar with the situation in the country.

b
Books100
Oct 28, 2010

I read the book and parts of it I liked very much and other parts I disliked intensely. The prose—poetry is beautiful and deep, e.g. "the hum of the bee motoring within the garden" and other references to things and places. You can read passages more than once and be moved by the comparisons between the human world and the world of nature. But I found the characters aptly described by the title "Anil's Ghost" is just that. Ghostly characters that wisp and float within the book's chapters, shadows flickering on the wall. When I read a book I want to be savaged by the character(s), I want to be drawn into their essence, to know and feel cry and laugh by their conversations, and their experiences of love and pain. I want the plot to drag me into the story and entertain me in their world. I want the story or the characters lives not to end, and stop reading only until I've finished reading it. I had to really push myself to finish this novel.

s
Spillie
Jun 22, 2010

A challenging book but a very good read.

r
reviewer
Nov 05, 2007

Probably the best work of poetic fiction ever written by probably the world's greatest living author.

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