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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost (original 2000; edition 2000)

by Michael Ondaatje

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2,827None2,054 (3.53)162
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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Anil Tessera returns to her home country, Sri Lanka, as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to help track down sources of murders taking place in the country. It’s the 1980’s, and Sri Lanka is embroiled in Civil War; it’s the government that has sent out death squads to hunt down factions of insurgents and separatists. It’s a delicate, balanced story, but I suppose the reason for my lower review score was that it was just a little too delicate and slow for my taste. I loved the very last page, which is the source of the first quote below. I was kinda glad when I got there though.

On life, death, and carrying on afterwards:
“And now with human sight he was seeing all the fibres of natural history around him. He could witness the smallest approach of a bird, every flick of its wing, or a hundred-mile storm coming down off the mountains near Gonagola and skirting to the plains. He could feel each current of wind, every lattice-like green shadow created by cloud. There was a girl moving in the forest. The rain miles away rolling like blue dust towards him. Grasses being burned, bamboo, the smell of petrol and grenade. The crack of noise as a layer of rock on his arm exfoliated in heat. The face open-eyed in the great rainstorms of May and June. The weather formed in the temperate forests and sea, in the thorn scrub behind him in the southeast, in the deciduous hills, and moving towards the burning savanna near Badulla, and then the coast of mangroves, lagoons, and river deltas. The great churning of weather above the earth.
Ananda briefly saw this angle of the world. There was a seduction for him here. The eyes he had cut and focused with his father's chisel showed him this. The bird dove towards gaps within the trees! They flew through the shelves of heat currents. The tiniest of hearts in them beating exhausted and fast, the way Sirissa had died in the story he invented for her in the vacuum of her disappearance. A small brave heart. In the heights she loved and in the dark she feared.
He felt the boy's concerned hand on his. This sweet touch from the world.”

On solitude:
“He was a well-liked man; he was polite with everyone because it was the easiest way not to have trouble, to be invisible to those who did not matter to him. This small courtesy created a bubble he rode within.”

On war:
“Fifty yards away in Emergency he had heard grown men scream for their mothers as they were dying. "Wait for me!" "I know you are here!" This was when he stopped believing in man's rule on earth. He turned away from every person who stood up for a war. Or the principle of one's land, or pride of ownership, or even personal rights. All of those motives ended up somehow in the arms of careless power. One was no worse and no better than the enemy. He believed only in mothers sleeping against their children, the great sexuality of spirit in them, the sexuality of care, so the children would be confident and safe during the night.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Mar 2, 2014 |
I had a really hard time getting in to Anil's Ghost. In fact, I really didn't ever get into it - I finished it in a marathon of reading more just to get through it than because I really cared about the characters or story.

I think it was the style that made it difficult for me. The chapters jumped around from character to character as well as in time. I found it disorienting and fragmented. There was a dreamy, detached sense to the narrative that didn't work for me - I imagine that it was certainly intentional, to convey particular emotions, but for me it just had the effect of keeping me from getting truly engaged.

The storyline of Anil's Ghost is pretty depressing. I don't mind reading books about heavy topics if they engage me and I feel that they carry some truth I can relate to. Since I could not connect to this book, it seemed even more heavy than I expected.

After two not-so-great books in a row, I need to do some careful searching at the library this weekend! ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Old Grandad gave me this book when I returned from India
  allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
Anil, a forensic anthropologist, returns to her native Sri Lanka at the behest of an international human rights group to investigate the mass murders of citizens by government, insurgents, and separatists during the early 90s. She is helped by the local anthropologist, Saratha, a secretive man with helpful local contacts. One of them, his old blind, professor/mentor may prove useful in helping them identify “Sailor” a twice-buried anonymous corpse.

The book is stunning with detail about forensic pathology and bears the hallmark of Ondaatje’s restrained but pregnant style. Anil's story inhabits that quiet space between the seen that one perceives from the corner of the eye and that Ondaatje illuminates and gives life to while chaos, upheaval, brutality, looming danger, and death swirl around held at bay by a perverse illusiveness.

Ondaatje is the master of the slow lava-boil of submerged emotion, the layered onion of buried personal secrets, the sly revelation of the novelistic big picture – all done with the skill of painless precision surgery such that you don’t realize your reading self has been skillfully flayed alive until it’s all over. ( )
1 vote Limelite | Sep 13, 2013 |
ETA: Warning - you learn very few specifics about the civil war. I was up last night thinking about this and considering if I should remove a star. No, I am not removing one. Ondaatje has a special way of writing, and I like it very much. In the beginning of the book there is a statement that says the war continues but in another way! So I think, what way? Tell me! (He never does.) That irritated me then, just as so much else did in the beginning. I didn't get what I expected but what I got was very good. Still, a four star read.


What to say? I am thinking. I know I really liked it by the end.....not in the beginning. In the beginning and even in the middle I was often confused. In the beginning all that lured me was learning about the horrors of the civil war raging in Sri Lanka at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s and facts about the country - physical and cultural. By the end I knew who was who. People are not simple, and this writer does not make it easy for you. You jump all over the place, from one place, time and person to another. By the end I was enchanted by the lines. By the end I cared for several of the characters. By the end I understood the message and agreed. Is it best to drive for truth and clarity, if this will just bring more suffering? And yet some people are who they are and have to behave as they do.

The narration by Alan Cumming also annoyed me in the beginning, but by the end it was just fine. In the beginning there was questioning tone, a tempo, an inflection that bugged me, but that just disappeared by the end! ( )
1 vote chrissie3 | Sep 4, 2013 |
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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."
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:21 -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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