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Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
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Divisadero (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Michael Ondaatje

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1,704684,175 (3.52)113
Member:vegetrendian
Title:Divisadero
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Knopf (2007), Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, Owned
Rating:****
Tags:Canadian, Fiction, 2007, Met, Signed, Giller Shortlist, GG, IMPAC Longlist,

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Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje (2007)

2007 (14) 2008 (10) 2009 (8) 21st century (12) audiobook (9) book club (8) California (49) Canada (25) Canadian (53) Canadian fiction (18) Canadian literature (49) contemporary fiction (9) family (35) fiction (288) First Edition (12) France (40) gambling (11) literary fiction (12) literature (31) novel (53) ondaatje (14) own (11) read (22) read in 2008 (9) signed (13) sisters (23) to-read (38) unread (22) USA (9) wishlist (9)
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    Three Junes by Julia Glass (eveninglightwriter)
    eveninglightwriter: While Ondaatje is definitly more poetic in his descriptions, Julia Glass is just as enjoyable. I really felt myself swept away by both books. There seems to be a strong sense of place and time that both writers portray beautifully.
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English (64)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
I have been thinking about Juanita's WWII criticism, but it seems to me that history in general plays very much in the background in this novel, despite the fact that both the Gulf War, the bombing of Baghdad in 2003 & WWI are specifically mentioned. War is just war here. Vietnam, for example, is also glossed over (Aldo Vea, the public defender & Claire's boss, is a veteran of that war &, in "real life," wrote a great novel, The Gods Go Begging, about it, but I don't remember whether or not Ondaatje mentions Vietnam in conjunction with Vea here). In any case, both geography and history, place and time, are very fluid in this novel. Ondaatje's use of place names and references to a few historical events is deceptive. I continue to have trouble with the location of the Petaluma ranch, which seems to lie on a ridge above both Nicasio and Glen Ellen (I took out a local map & still couldn't get that to make sense). Then I realized that his Northern California geography is perhaps just as purposely unreliable as his French geography. I think the same is true for time. I had difficulty figuring out characters' ages in relation to events. At first it seems that Claire & Anna were born in the late forties, perhaps early fifties, but then, later in the book (2003) Claire should be older than she seems to be. Specifically, as regards WWII, that war is embodied in the character of Raphael's father (Astolphe, Liebaud), the man of shifting names, who seems to me to be none other than Caravaggio from In the Skin of the Lion and The English Patient (Astolphe is a thief from another country who teaches Raphael English).
My problem, if it is one, with the novel is that all the characters, both male and female, are really the same character. They all essentially have the same sensibility and speak with the same voice. I find this a bit tiresome. Perhaps it is Ondaatje's way of presenting the "universality" of desire, of intimacy & the impossibility of intimacy, or even of fully knowing oneself. Or perhaps it is an overly intrusive "poetic" device (Ondaatje's prose is awash in lyrical language).

More thoughts gleaned from notes from my first reading of the novel in 2007:
Many readers appear to be frustrated by the unfinished nature of the twin narratives here, particularly the story of Cooper and Claire. Although I too am curious, I am not troubled. I do think that Ondaatje “un-finishes” this narrative in perhaps too adamant or too contrived a fashion. In the sense that it reads as if he intended not to finish it rather than that the story itself would not allow itself to end.
Ondaatje talks about the relationship between poetry and novel-writing. In many ways, his novels have become increasingly “traditional.” In books such as Billy the Kid, Coming Through Slaughter, Running in the Family and even The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost, his texts are more hybrid in nature. The idea of parallel narratives is certainly not a new one. Poetry does motivate Ondaatje’s syntax and use of image in his prose. In any paragraph, there will be narrative, strictly prose elements and then sentences or phrases that function as poetry (not moving the story along nor even revealing character), just there to be admired. For instance, the very last sentence in the novel: “Some birds in the almost-dark are flying as close to their reflections as possible.”
In one sense, this echoes the motif of twinning in the novel. Isn’t a twin a reflection after all? You look in the mirror and you see someone who is you and then not quite you, but some one other.

Motifs:
Accidents, injuries, diseases that maim or wound permanently: Claire’s “limp” from childhood polio; Lucien’s missing eye after an attack by a mad dog and a splinter of glass gets embedded in his eye;

Attacks by animals: mad dog attack on Lucien; mad horse attack on Claire and Anna

Injuries inflicted by humans: their father’s beating of Coop after he discovers Anna and Coop together, Anna sticking a shard of glass into her father’s back (like the shard of glass in Lucien’s eye); Roman attacking men of whom he is jealous, which lands him in prison and then the army during WWI; Coop beaten up by three men in Tahoe, which causes him to suffer amnesia

Tending to the injured: Claire rescues Coop twice, first, from the cabin after he is beaten up by their father, second, from the house at Lake Tahoe, after he is beaten up by the three men; Marie-Neige tends to Lucien’s eye after he’s attacked by the dog; Lucien dreams that M-N tends to him when he is delirious from diphtheria at the hospital during the war; Lucien hallucinates that he is tending to M-N when he returns to the farm after the war; the next day he learns that she died during the war.

More parallels: Anna & Claire both become investigators of a sort, one an archivist, the other the assistant to a public defender; they are both looking for people; in a sense Cooper, the cardsharp “mechanic” is a thief similar to Astolphe/ Liebaud, the “thief”

Mistaken identity: Cooper mistakes Anna for Claire when he picks her up after the horse attack; Cooper mistakes Claire for Anna when he is suffering amnesia; Marie-Neige mistakes Lucien for Roman in Lucien’s hallucination after his return home from WWI.

Changing names: Raphael’s father, Liebaud/Astolphe, changes his name frequently; Lucien Segura writes his series of Roman adventure novels as La Garonne, Anna changes her name after running away from Petaluma, but we never learn her new name.

Fathers: Claire, Anna, and Cooper’s father; Lucien’s missing biological father and his stepfather who dies four years after Lucien and his mother come to live with him; from him Lucien inherits Marseillan, Lucien as “failed” father to his daughters Lucette and Therese, yet father-figure or uncle-figure to Raphael; Raphael’s father Astolphe who, similarly to Lucien, leaves his wife and children in another country to be with Aria.

Mothers: Raphael’s mother Aria, the singer and gypsy; Lucien’s mother Odile, who teaches Marie-Neige how to read and teaches both Lucien and Marie-Neige how to dance: Anna's mother, who died in childbirth.

Siblings: Claire & Anna, Lucette & Therese. Claire, Anna & Cooper; Lucien & Marie-Neige (Only Lucette & Therese are siblings by virtue of having the same birth parents). Interestingly, there are no brother/brother relationships in the novel.

Raphael’s father Astolphe is another Caravaggio, the character from Ondaatje's previous novels In the Skin of the Lion and The English Patient.
Cooper is a boy straight out of Cormac McCarthy, especially the boy in All the Pretty Horses.
( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Disappointing : There's much to enjoy in this new Ondaatje novel--all his usual gifts are on display--but I was disappointed. First, it seems too many serious writers these days are obsessed with writing itself as a metaphor for life and all its existential complexity. Ondaatje tries to include the "world" in his tortured literary effort--e.g., clunky references to the two Gulf Wars--but in the end the novel and its concerns feel terribly self-involved and self-referential, like he's finally given into a private world just as his characters Lucien Segura, Rafael, and Anna have done. Art as an escape from truth. Nietzsche deserves a better interpretation! Second, I found it needlessly confusing. I know we're not supposed to admit this -- we're supposed to pretend that it all makes sense--but does it? Early on Anna recounts a shared memory in the barn with her sister Claire. She says that "even now" they remember it differently. When is even now? She runs away from home and never goes back as far as we know, so when do she and Anna get together and compare memories? Also, how can her telling of Lucien's life story contain resonances with Coop's life after she left, a life of which she knows nothing? Are we to believe in magic here, or are we to believe that the family at some point reunites?

Don't get me wrong, the book is a pleasurable serious read. I read it in one sitting (one long plane ride). But it became increasingly disappointing as it went on. He refuses to tell a straight story--I get it--but the (perhaps) unintended effect of his narrative stubbornness is that as the book went on I wanted basically one thing: to know what happened to Coop, whom he abandons at mid-book. You can't just create a character and a story line as compelling as this one and then throw it away as if it started to smell bad to you. It smacks of an author who might disdain his own readers.

And, finally, I felt the book was haunted by Ian McEwan's superior Atonement. This may be cruel, but this book felt like a convoluted knock-off of it.
  lonepalm | Feb 5, 2014 |
The blurb on the back cover really doesn't do justice to the poetry - or, indeed, much of the plot - of the actual novel. I was expecting some sort of rural farm-based kitchen sink drama, but the 'division' between the two sisters occurs early on, and then the story branches off into two completely different directions. Claire and Coop stay in America, meeting randomly in the midst of their separate lives, and Anna leaves for France to immerse herself in the work of a reclusive author, Lucien, and takes a lover called Rafael. We get a glimpse into the lives of every character, and the story ends with Lucien's ill-fated romance during the First World War. And Ondaatje's beautiful language is like another character in its own right - I kept getting caught up in his poetic turns of phrase, but never lost the threads of the story. A magical interlude. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Aug 1, 2013 |
Confusing.
There's the beginning plot, then it splinters, and from that another story and its backstory emerge. I really thought there would be a clearer tie in to the original story, of Clara and Ann and the boy, but it wasn't that strong. Maybe a re-read or proper study would help. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
It took the whole book before I felt I had anything like a handle on this book. The style does not sit comfortably. I couldn't grip or connect to the characters - I never did since the last quarter of the book is about different characters. As soon as I felt the book was getting somewhere, it changed. Ondaatje writes well, but seems to me, like so many men who 'write well', to be unable to connect with characters. ( )
  veracite | Apr 7, 2013 |
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Michael Ondaatjeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walz, MelanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For John and Beverly
and in loving memory of Creon Corea
- remembered by us as 'Egilly"
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When I came to lie in your arms, you sometimes ask me in which historical moment do I wish to exist.
Quotations
Wij hebben kunst opdat wij niet door de waarheid zullen worden vernietigd (Nietzsche)
“There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.”
So we fall in love with ghosts.
With memory, with the reflection of an echo, a gate opens both ways. We can circle time. A paragraph or an episode from another era will haunt us in the night, as the words of a stranger can.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307266354, Hardcover)

From the celebrated author of The English Patient, comes another breathtaking, unforgettable story, this time about a family torn apart by an act of violence. Divisadero is a rich and rewarding read, one that Jhumpa Lahiri, in her guest review for Amazon.com (see below), calls "Ondaatje's finest novel to date." --Daphne Durham

Guest Reviewer: Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as the PEN/Hemingway Award for her mesmerizing debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Her poignant and powerful debut novel, The Namesake was adapted by screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, and released in theaters in 2007.

My life always stops for a new book by Michael Ondaatje. I began Divisadero as soon as it came into my possession and over the course of a few evenings was captivated by Ondaatje's finest novel to date. The story is simple, almost mythical, stemming from a family on a California farm that is ruptured just as it is about to begin. Two daughters, Anna and Claire, are raised not just as siblings but with the intense bond of twins, interchangeable, inseparable. Coop, a boy from a neighboring farm, is folded into the girls' lives as a hired hand and quasi-brother. Anna, Claire, and Coop form a triangle that is intimate and interdependent, a triangle that brutally explodes less than thirty pages into the book. We are left with a handful of glass, both narratively and thematically. But Divisadero is a deeply ordered, full-bodied work, and the fragmented characters, severed from their shared past, persevere in relation to one another, illuminating both what it means to belong to a family and what it means to be alone in the world. The notion of twins, of one becoming two, pervades the novel, and so the farm in California is mirrored by a farm in France, the setting for another plot line in the second half of the book and giving us, in a sense, two novels in one. But the stories are not only connected but calibrated by Ondaatje to reveal a haunting pattern of parallels, echoes, and reflections across time and place. Like Nabokov, another master of twinning, Ondaatje's method is deliberate but discreet, and it was only in rereading this beautiful book--which I wanted to do as soon as I finished it--that the intricate play of doubles was revealed. Every sign of the author's genius is here: the searing imagery, the incandescent writing, the calm probing of life's most turbulent and devastating experiences. No one writes as affectingly about passion, about time and memory, about violence--subjects that have shaped Ondaatje's previous novels. But there is a greater muscularity to Divisadero, an intensity born from its restraint. Episodes are boiled down to their essential elements, distilled but dramatic, resulting in a mosaic of profound dignity, with an elegiac quietude that only the greatest of writers can achieve. --Jhumpa Lahiri


(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:34 -0400)

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In California, then the Nevada casino's, 1970 a makeshift family of a father, daughter, adopted daughter and farm hand's lives are shattered by a traumatic event and they are sent off on separate courses.

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