Summary and book reviews of Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight

by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje X
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.

In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself - shadowed and luminous at once - we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing?

A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey - through facts, recollection, and imagination - that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

Excerpted from Chapter 1

In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. We were living on a street in London called Ruvigny Gardens, and one morning either our mother or our father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year. Not too long, they said, but it would not be a brief trip either. We would of course be well cared for in their absence. I remember our father was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron garden chairs as he broke the news, while our mother, in a summer dress just behind his shoulder, watched how we responded. After a while she took my sister Rachel's hand and held it against her waist, as if she could give it warmth.

Neither Rachel nor I said a word. We stared at our father, who was expanding on the details of their flight on the new Avro Tudor I, a descendant of the Lancaster bomber, which could cruise at more than ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Warlight will likely not appeal to all readers, particularly those who have limited patience for a story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The story may require some effort now and then, but most readers will find it well worth their time. Warlight is now on my list of best books and I heartily recommend it to those who enjoy exceptionally well-written fiction. It's one of the most satisfying novels I've read in a long time.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (596 words).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal
Ondaatje's prose encapsulates readers in the dreariness of London and the claustrophobic confines of Nathaniel's experience, explicating the verbosity of silence that lingers in the haunting aftermath of global war.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje's best work yet.

Booklist
Starred Review. With vivid evocations of place, quiet suspense, exquisite psychological portraiture, and spotlighted historical events - a legendary chess game; horrific, hidden postwar vengeance; and the mass destruction of government archives - Ondaatje's drolly charming, stealthily sorrowful tale casts subtle light on secret skirmishes and wounds sustained as war is slowly forged into peace.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Ondaatje's shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.

Reader Reviews

Davida Chazan

The consequences of peace
"It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Greyhound Racing

In Michael Ondaatje's novel Warlight, the narrator assists with "importing a dubious population of unregistered foreign dogs" into England for the sport of dog racing.

Greyhound racing - click for larger imageModern dog racing is an outgrowth of an older sport called "coursing," in which dogs hunt game by sight instead of using their sense of smell (hounds as a category are dogs bred to hunt and they generally fall into two categories – sight and scent). Two dogs are raced at a time pursuing one hare and are judged by not only their speed and success in catching the hare, but their ability to turn it, trip it, and kill it. This type of racing, first described by the Greek historian Arrian in 15 CE, became immensely popular in England, Ireland and Scotland during the 16th ...

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