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  • Anil's Ghost
  • Written by Michael Ondaatje
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A Novel

Written by Michael OndaatjeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael Ondaatje



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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: January 10, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-41267-7
Published by : Vintage Knopf

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Read by Alan Cumming
On Sale: July 05, 2000
ISBN: 978-0-375-41730-6
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

With his first novel since the internationally acclaimed The English Patient, Booker Prize—winning author 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.

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past–a story 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–Michael Ondaatje’s most powerful novel yet.

Excerpt

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 talk in the car on the way into Colombo — I'm jet-lagged. I just want to look. Maybe drink some toddy before it gets too late. Is Gabriel's Saloon still there for head massages?'

'In Kollupitiya, yes. I knew his father.'

'My father knew his father too.'

Without touching a single suitcase he organized the loading of the bags into the car. 'Toddy!' He laughed, continuing his conversation. 'First thing after fifteen years. The return of the prodigal.'

'I'm not a prodigal.'

An hour later he shook hands energetically with her at the door of the small house they had rented for her.

'There's a meeting tomorrow with Mr. Diyasena.'

'Thank you.'

'You have friends here, no?'

'Not really.'



Anil was glad to be alone. There was a scattering of relatives in Colombo, but she had not contacted them to let them know she was returning. She unearthed a sleeping pill from her purse, turned on the fan, chose a sarong and climbed into bed. The thing she had missed most of all were the fans. After she had left Sri Lanka at eighteen, her only real connection was the new sarong her parents sent her every Christmas (which she dutifully wore), and news clippings of swim meets. Anil had been an exceptional swimmer as a teenager, and the family never got over it; the talent was locked to her for life. As far as Sri Lankan families were concerned, if you were a well-known cricketer you could breeze into a career in business on the strength of your spin bowling or one famous inning at the Royal-Thomian match. Anil at sixteen had won the two-mile swim race that was held by the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Each year a hundred people ran into the sea, swam out to a buoy a mile away and swam back to the same beach, the fastest male and the fastest female fêted in the sports pages for a day or so. There was a photograph of her walking out of the surf that January morning — which The Observer had used with the headline 'Anil Wins It!' and which her father kept in his office. It had been studied by every distant member of the family (those in Australia, Malaysia and England, as well as those on the island), not so much because of her success but for her possible good looks now and in the future. Did she look too large in the hips?

The photographer had caught Anil's tired smile in the photograph, her right arm bent up to tear off her rubber swimming cap, some out-of-focus stragglers (she had once known who they were). The black-and-white picture had remained an icon in the family for too long.



She pushed the sheet down to the foot of the bed and lay there in the darkened room, facing the waves of air. The island no longer held her by the past. She'd spent the fifteen years since ignoring that early celebrity. Anil had read documents and news reports, full of tragedy, and she had now lived abroad long enough to interpret Sri Lanka with a long-distance gaze. But here it was a more complicated world morally. The streets were still streets, the citizens remained citizens. They shopped, changed jobs, laughed. Yet the darkest Greek tragedies were innocent compared with what was happening here. Heads on stakes. Skeletons dug out of a cocoa pit in Matale. At university Anil had translated lines from Archilochus — In the hospitality of war we left them their dead to remember us by. But here there was no such gesture to the families of the dead, not even the information of who the enemy was.


From the Hardcover edition.
Michael Ondaatje

About Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje - Anil's Ghost

Photo © Linda Spalding

Michael Ondaatje is the author of five previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Gorgeously exotic…. As he did in The English Patient, Mr. Ondaatje is able to commingle anguish and seductiveness in fierce, unexpected ways.”–The New York Times

Awards

NOMINEE ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2000 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

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.

About the Guide

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 human rights organization, her task is to investigate possible "extrajudicial executions" by the government. When she and Sarath Diyasena, an archaeologist assigned by the government to work with her, discover a recently buried skeleton among several ancient ones in a site accessible only by the army, they realize that the mystery surrounding this body--whom they call Sailor--might shed light on the disappearances of countless people. As the search for Sailor's identity and his killers becomes a passionate obsession, Anil is forced to risk her own life to uncover secrets that the government will do almost anything to protect.

While Anil and Sarath pursue the mystery of Sailor, other extraordinary characters come into play. Sarath's brother Gamini, an amphetamine-addicted surgeon, spends his days and nights in the emergency room of Colombo's central hospital attending to the victims of bombings and other atrocities. Ananda, who is called out of the gem mines to reconstruct a face for Sailor, does brilliant work as an artist in the mornings and drinks himself into a stupor in the afternoons, crushed with grief by the disappearance of his beloved wife. The blind archaeologist Palipana, Sarath's mentor and former teacher, ekes out a living in the ruins of a Buddhist monastery in the forest and shares with Anil and Sarath his unworldly perspective on Sri Lanka's ancient history and its violent present.

With Anil's Ghost, Michael Ondaatje has created a hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable novel of an island people trapped in a deadly civil war.

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of three previous novels, eleven books of poetry, and a memoir--Running in the Family--about his Ceylonese family and his youth on the island that is now called Sri Lanka. He moved to Canada in 1962 and now lives in Toronto. His novel, The English Patient, won the Booker Prize.

Discussion Guides

1. Juxtapositions and fragments are central to the style and structure of Anil's Ghost. The novel opens with a scene in italics, in which we are introduced to Anil as part of a team of scientists unearthing the bodies of missing people in Guatemala. Then there is a brief scene in which Anil arrives in Sri Lanka to begin her investigation for the human rights group. This is followed by another scene in italics, describing "the place of a complete crime"--a place where Buddhist cave sculptures were "cut out of the walls with axes and saws" [p. 12]. How do these sections--upon which the author does not comment--work together, and what is the cumulative effect of such brief scenes?

2. Why is the story of how Anil got her name [pp. 67-8] important to the construction of her character? Does it imply that she has created an identity for herself, based on fierce internal promptings, that is at odds with her parents' wishes for her? Is Anil's personality well-suited to the conditions in which she finds herself in Sri Lanka?

3. Forensic expertise such as Anil's often occupies a central place in the mystery genre--as in the popular Kay Scarpetta mysteries by Patricia Cornwell or in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In what ways does Anil's Ghost fit into the genre of mystery fiction, and how does it transcend such a classification?

4. How does the section called "The Grove of Ascetics" extend the novel's exploration of the meaning of history? What is the relevance, if any, of Palipana's knowledge? How does the ancient culture of the island relate to its present situation? Does the past have permanence?

5. If you have read The English Patient, how does Anil's Ghost compare with that novel? Is it similar, with its focus on war, on history, on how people behave in dangerous political situations--or is it quite different?

6. What does Anil's affair with Cullis, as well as what we learn about her marriage, tell us about her passion and her sensuality? Given her past, is it surprising that there is no romantic involvement for her in this story?

7. Michael Ondaatje has published many books of poetry; how do the style and structure of this novel exhibit the poetic sensibility of its author?

8. Is there a single or multiple meaning behind the "ghost" of the book's title? Who or what is Anil's Ghost?

9. Why are Anil, Sarath, and Gamini so consumed by their work? What parts of their lives are they necessarily displacing or postponing for the sake of their work? Is the choice of professional over personal life the correct one, ethically speaking, within the terms of this novel?

10. Does the story of Gamini's childhood provide an adequate explanation for the rivalry between him and Sarath? Or is the rivalry caused solely by the fact that as adults they both loved the same woman? Does Sarath's wife love Gamini rather than her husband? Which of the two brothers is the more admirable one?

11. As Anil thinks about the mystery of Sailor's death, the narrator tells us, "She used to believe that meaning allowed a person a door to escape grief and fear. But she saw that those who were slammed and stained by violence lost the power of language and logic" [p. 55]. How does this insight about the loss of language and logic explain Ananda's behavior? Is Anil's search for "meaning" ultimately to be seen as naive within a context which, as the narrator tells us, "The reason for war was war" [p. 43]?

12. The acknowledgments at the end of the book tell us that the names of people who disappeared (mentioned on p. 41) are taken from an actual list in Amnesty International reports (see p. 310). Similarly, the description of the assassination of the president [pp. 291-95] is based on true events, though the president's name has been changed. Why does Ondaatje insert the names of real people, and the real situations in which they died or disappeared, in a work of fiction?

13. Certain tersely narrated episodes convey the terrifying strangeness of Sri Lanka's murderous atmosphere. About the bicycle incident he witnessed, in which the person being kidnapped was forced to embrace his captor as he was taken away, Sarath says, "It was this necessary intimacy that was disturbing" [p. 154]. Another scene describes Anil and Sarath's rescue of the crucified Gunesena; another the disappearance of Ananda's wife. How does Ondaatje's handling of these three separate examples of violence and its victims make the reader understand the horror of living with politically-motivated murder as an everyday reality?

14. What are the elements that give such emotional power to the scene in which Gamini examines and tends to the body of his murdered brother?

15. Given the crisis that occurs when Anil testifies about Sailor at the hospital, has she brought about more harm than good? If so, is she ultimately to be seen as an outsider who has intruded in a situation she doesn't fully understand? Is Sarath the true hero of the novel, and does he sacrifice his life for hers?

16. The novel ends with a chapter called "Distance," in which a vandalized statue of Buddha is reconstructed and Ananda, the artisan, is given the task of sculpting the god's eyes. Does this religious ceremony cast the novel's ending in a positive or hopeful light? How important is the theme of Buddhism, and the presence of the Buddha's gaze, throughout this story?

17. How does Ondaatje manage to convey a powerful sense of place in this novel? What are the details that communicate Sri Lanka's unique geographical and cultural identity?


  • Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
  • April 24, 2001
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Vintage
  • $15.95
  • 9780375724374

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