Summary and book reviews of Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost

by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost
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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka's landscape and ancient civilization, Anil's Ghost is a literary spellbinder.

With his first novel since the internationally acclaimed The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje gives us a work displaying all the richness of imagery and language and the piercing emotional truth that we have come to know as the hallmarks of his writing.

The time is our own time. The place is Sri Lanka, the island nation formerly known as Ceylon, off the southern tip of India, a country steeped in centuries of cultural achievement and tradition--and forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war and the consequences of a country divided against itself.

Into this maelstrom steps a young woman, Anil Tissera, born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to work with local officials to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island.

Bodies are discovered. Skeletons. And particularly one, nicknamed 'Sailor.' What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past--all propelled by a riveting mystery.

Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka's landscape and ancient civilization, Anil's Ghost is a literary spellbinder--the most powerful novel we have yet had from Michael Ondaatje.

Chapter One

She arrived in early March, the plane landing at Katunayake airport before the dawn. They had raced it ever since coming over the west coast of India, so that now passengers stepped onto the tarmac in the dark.

By the time she was out of the terminal the sun had risen. In the West she'd read, The dawn comes up like thunder, and she knew she was the only one in the classroom to recognize the phrase physically. Though it was never abrupt thunder to her. It was first of all the noise of chickens and carts and modest morning rain or a man squeakily cleaning the windows with newspaper in another part of the house.

As soon as her passport with the light-blue UN bar was processed, a young official approached and moved alongside her. She struggled with her suitcases but he offered no help.



'How long has it been? You were born here, no?'

'Fifteen years.'

'You still speak Sinhala?'

'A little. Look, do you mind if I don't ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, his first novel since the internationally acclaimed and Booker Prize winner The English Patient. A literary spellbinder which unfolds against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka's landscape and ancient civilization, Anil's Ghost is a story about love, family, identity, the unknown enemy, and the quest to unlock the hidden past--a powerful story propelled by a riveting mystery.

Anil Tissera is a forensic anthropologist who returns to Sri Lanka, the island of her birth, after fifteen years in the West. As a member of an international ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Salon - Gary Kamiya

Anil's Ghost ... is the most restrained and plot-driven of his books. This description is relative, of course Even a subdued Ondaatje is more of a shape shifter and trickster than 99 percent of his peers. The polyphonic elements -- the use of multiple stories of equal or almost equal weight -- that are an Ondaatje trademark are still here, as are the majestic set passages, but for the first time in his career a single story forms the skeleton of the book.

Time Out New York - Anderson Tepper

As in The English Patient, Ondaatje seamlessly melds historical esoterica with flashing insights into the emotional worlds of his characters, setting all this against a backdrop of trauma and triage, both personal and social.

USA Today - Robert Allen Papinchak

Anil's Ghost is virtually flawless, with impeccable regional details, startlingly original characters and a compelling literary plot that borders on the thriller.

Publishers Weekly

[O]ndaatje's novel satisfies one of the most exalted purposes of fiction to illuminate the human condition through pity and terror. It may well be the capstone of his career.

Wall Street Journal - Elizabeth Bukowski

Anil's Ghost has a collage-like structure that hops among scenes from the past and present of different characters' lives. The fragmented narrative heightens the sense that these characters only halfway inhabit their lives

Reader Reviews

Henriette

Anil's ghost
I really liked this book, it is not an easy book to read but I found it very moving. Its prose is clipped, clear and poetic at the same time with a great depth of feeling. It did bring tears to my eyes and should be read a second time to bring out ...   Read More

Antoinette-Marie

Discovery
I loved the book, I loved its atmosphere, bit mysterious,bit real, I loved its ending [comment removed due to plot spoiler]. The writting is elegant, poetic.I had to research about Sri Lanka in order to be able to travel with the characters and that ...   Read More

Eric

Wow. I have to say that it is slow, and does jump around alot, but it was amazing. I had a hard time keeping track of the characters and places, but the ending is powerful and moving. For anyone that can manage his style, I would absolutely ...   Read More

literate-world

Entralling, yet difficult read
This is one of my favorite books. I have to admit it is not a vacation book from either a writing viewpoint or from a subject matter. The atmosphere of Sri Lanka during that time is hauntingly brought alive in Ondaatje's prose.

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