Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Michael Ondaatje is the master of the loosely connected narrative. Seemingly unconnected people and events in his novels wind around to brush up against one another. Where the characters end up overlapping is often the way their stories are illuminated, even as they spin away again into their separate worlds. Divisadero traces the paths of two sisters, Anna and Claire, and the boy, Coop, who they grow up with on a California farm. Their lives are suddenly altered in the aftermath of a disastrous love affair, and they move out into the world apart, but still living intimately with the memories of their former existence. Anna's voice moves in and out of the narration, as she researches the life of a French writer, Lucien Segura, in a remote village in France. There, she takes a lover, Rafael -- the son of gypsies whose caravan lies at the periphery of Segura's farmhouse where she works.

The story then becomes as much about Segura as Anna, Claire, and Coop. The sections set in France, both in the near present and in the early-1900s of Segura's life are very beautiful. There are many parallels between these lives, decades apart. Segura's war was the devastating conflict of the Great War; in the present, the Gulf Wars hovers in the background of Coop's life as an accomplished gambler in the casinos and dives of Las Vegas and Tahoe.

This is one of those novels that bears a second reading, just for the pleasures of its prose, but also to discover all the tenuous filaments that tie its characters together. I've admired all of Ondaatje's novels that I've read: The English Patient, In the Skin of a Lion, and Anil's Ghost -- but I think this and Anil are the ones that I found to be the most moving.

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