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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost (original 2000; edition 2000)

by Michael Ondaatje

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Title:Anil's Ghost
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Knopf (2000), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 311 pages
Collections:Your library

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Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (2000)


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(7.5) I am struggling to review this book and rate it. It is not a book to be enjoyed as it reveals the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war and the atrocities committed. It is probably very good and indeed an important book to read, but I struggled to feel any emotional connection with the characters and found the storyline a little disjointed. ( )
  HelenBaker | Jun 17, 2017 |
Lovely writing, and I enjoyed the story, but the characters weren't as fleshed out as they might have been. Very lively and interesting discussion at Babelia. ( )
  KymmAC | Mar 27, 2017 |
“Secrets turn powerless in the open air.”

This novel is set on the island of Sri Lanka during the brutal civil war turmoil of the 1980s and 90s. This was a civil war fought by three opposing groups: the government, anti-government insurgents in the south and Tamil separatists in the north.

The main character is Anil Tissera, a Sri Lankan born forensic scientist who returns to her homeland as a United Nations human rights investigator to explore various human rights abuses and "disappearances" that have been perpetrated by the three different combatents.

Bach on the island she finds that she has been paired with a Sri Lankan government-appointed partner, Sarath Diyasera, a forty-nine year old government archaeologist who is related to a Government minister meaning that Anil never fully trusts him and leads to distrust his real motives for taking part.

While excavating a site in a Sri Lankan Government controlled part of the country Anil and Sarath uncover three skeletons, two are from the nineteenth century bones but one is much more recent and appears to have been buried twice at two separate locations. This unidentified body is given the name, "Sailor," and becomes the centre of their investigation in not only into his cause of death but also his identity.

Although born in Sri Lanka Anil is western educated and as such does not share the same values and ideals as those with whom she must work. As Sarath's brother Gamini remarks she is like a foreign journalist who flies in, films their piece and then fly out again without having to deal with the realities of life on the island, the sometimes compromising alliances that must be made just to avoid suspicion yourself and as such stay alive. Sarath in contrast is a permanent resident of the island and therefore must make these compromises. This becomes one of the major themes of this novel and for me at least one of its major failings. I feel that if the author had instead concentrated only on those who actually lived on the island, it would have proved far more compelling.

Throughout the novel Ondaatje threads his way between past and present, giving us an insight into some of the mystic background to the island however,not all of these background tales seem to have much to do with the main plot. Now I have no complaints with his prose which at times is poetic but is always beautiful I felt that at times he went off at a tangent some of the message gets lost and as such the novel is not as thought provoking as it could and perhaps should have been which to my way of thinking was a real missed opportunity. ( )
1 vote PilgrimJess | Oct 17, 2016 |
Ondaatje's haunting prose is ideally suited to such a story as this, where civil war and fear have torn at a country and created a world that can be as surreal and beautiful as it is cruel.

At the center is Anil, a forensic anthropologist who was born in Sri Lanka, and who has come back unrooted and free under the direction of a human rights organization, though identity and connection are at the center of what she does. Through her, through a doctor, and through others--all of whom are affected and affecting--Ondaatje stages a world to be sunken into and explored, through visceral and careful writing that is, simply, worth reading and re-reading.

Simply, I don't know of any other writer like Ondaatje, and I don't know that this book could be forgotten, once read. And it should be read. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Sep 14, 2016 |
Anil Tissera has returned to her native Sri Lanka as a pathologist for an international human rights organization to investigate deaths of Sri Lankans in the civil war of the 1990s. She is assisted by Saratha, a local archaeologist and his brother, an emergency physician. It's a subtle story that is not so much about the war, but quietly entangled with the passions and loyalties of the people. There are myriad tragedies to be faced beyond the allegations. As anyone from a country that has experienced civil war can attest, understanding the allegiance of those around you is paramount. Anil's colleagues are complex, shadowy, careful, only to be expected in the circumstances, but Ondaatje gives them a remarkable verisimilitude.

Because so much of what has happened in the war reflects national identity, Anil's forensic investigation is as much a probe into Sri Lanka's culture, people and history as of the civil war victims. This is a quiet telling, an elegy set against the sad backdrop of Sri Lanka's civil war and veiled in the surreal, dreamlike quality of Ontaatje's prose that captures the beauty and atmosphere of the country. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Sep 4, 2016 |
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When the team reached the site at five-thirty in the morning, one or two family members would be waiting for them.
"The bodies turn up weekly now. The height of the terror was 'eighty-eight and 'eighty-nine, but of course it was going on long before that. Every side was killing and hiding the evidence. Every side. This is an unofficial war, no one wants to alienate the foreign powers. So it's secret gangs and squads. Not like Central America. The government was not the only one doing the killing. You had, and still have, three camps of enemies--one in the north, two in the south--using weapons, propaganda, fear, sophisticated posters, censorship. Importing state-of-the-art weapons from the West, or manufacturing homemade weapons. A couple of years ago people just started disappearing. Or bodies kept being found burned beyond recognition. There's no hope for affixing blame. And no one can tell who the victims are."
"There are so many bodies in the ground now, that's what you said...murdered, anonymous. I mean, people don't even know if they are two hundred years old or two weeks old, they've all been through fire. Some people let their ghosts die, some don't. Sarath, we can do something..."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375724370, Paperback)

In his Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje explored the nature of love and betrayal in wartime. His fourth, Anil's Ghost, is also set during a war, but unlike in World War II, the enemy is difficult to identify in the bloody sectarian upheaval that ripped Sri Lanka apart in the 1980s and '90s. The protagonist, Anil Tissera, a native Sri Lankan, left her homeland at 18 and returns to it 15 years later only as part of an international human rights fact-finding mission. In the intervening years she has become a forensic anthropologist--a career that has landed her in the killing fields of Central America, digging up the victims of Guatemala's dirty war. Now she's come to Sri Lanka on a similar quest. But as she soon learns, there are fundamental differences between her previous assignment and this one:
The bodies turn up weekly now. The height of the terror was 'eighty-eight and 'eighty-nine, but of course it was going on long before that. Every side was killing and hiding the evidence. Every side. This is an unofficial war, no one wants to alienate the foreign powers. So it's secret gangs and squads. Not like Central America. The government was not the only one doing the killing.
In such a situation, it's difficult to know who to trust. Anil's colleague is one Sarath Diyasena, a Sri Lankan archaeologist whose political affiliations, if any, are murky. Together they uncover evidence of a government-sponsored murder in the shape of a skeleton they nickname Sailor. But as Anil begins her investigation into the events surrounding Sailor's death, she finds herself caught in a web of politics, paranoia, and tragedy.

Like its predecessor, the novel explores that territory where the personal and the political intersect in the fulcrum of war. Its style, though, is more straightforward, less densely poetical. While many of Ondaatje's literary trademarks are present--frequent shifts in time, almost hallucinatory imagery, the gradual interweaving of characters' pasts with the present--the prose here is more accessible. This is not to say that the author has forgotten his poetic roots; subtle, evocative images abound. Consider, for example, this description of Anil at the end of the day, standing in a pool of water, "her toes among the white petals, her arms folded as she undressed the day, removing layers of events and incidents so they would no longer be within her." In Anil's Ghost Michael Ondaatje has crafted both a brutal examination of internecine warfare and an enduring meditation on identity, loyalty, and the unbreakable hold the past exerts over the present. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:42 -0400)

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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 Tessera, 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.… (more)

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