Divisadero – Michael Ondaatje

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“Those who have an orphan’s sense of history love history. And my voice has become that of an orphan. Perhaps it was the unknown life of my mother, her barely drawn portrait, that made me an archivist, a historian. Because if you do not plunder the past, the absence feeds on you.”

That is the voice of Anna one of the main characters in Ondaatje’s latest novel. Divisadero is written in two parts. The first involves Anna and her adopted siblings Claire and Cooper who live on a farm in Northern California. A single act of brutality by Anna’s father destroys the family and its members go their separate ways. Halfway through the novel, Ondaatje introduces a second story – a blurred image of the first from France around the time of World War I. The beauty of Ondaatje’s prose seems effortless. I would say that the story is almost less important than the telling, but that would do injustice to the novel which warrants a second read to pick up on all the connections between the two family histories. Fans of linear plots with nice neat endings shouldn’t even think about reading this book.

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