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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
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Anil's Ghost (original 2000; edition 2000)

by Michael Ondaatje

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2,884712,004 (3.53)171
Member:WSB7
Title:Anil's Ghost
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Knopf (2000), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 311 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:None

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Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (2000)

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Read during Summer 2006

I started out reading a very large chunk of this and really enjoying it but it started to fade for me about 2/3 of the way through. The characters and plotlines were all interesting and the shifts in both time and person were not hard to follow but suddenly it just went off on a different tack than I expected. It was hard to know who was on what side and then it went into many back stories about Anil (who is a woman despite the name) and Gamini (the emergency room doctor who is brother to Sarath) that didn't seem to connect up much with anything. I also wasn't completely clear on what happened in the last 20 or so pages. I still enjoyed it and Ondaatje's writing style is engaging but I'm not sure I'd reread it.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
The book really took me with it on a journey. I'm glad I read it slowly and without the distraction of any other books. The subject is war and very painful but painted through the detail of characters that go straight to the heart which is how it is bearable to read, yet unbearable at the same time - how do people survive in a war torn country? - well some do and some don't but the struggle to end any war must continue with all of us. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
Anil Tissera was born in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, to a prosperous family, where she achieved a small degree of fame by winning a notable swimming race as a school girl. She left at 18 to attend medical school in England, and she later trained to become a forensic pathologist there and in the United States. After a brief failed marriage and the early deaths of her parents she is rootless and restless, despite her successful career. She applies and, to her surprise, is accepted as a forensic specialist for an international human rights organization that plans to send a team to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, during the height of the country's civil war. The government is engaged in fierce and bloody battles with the Tamil Tigers to the north and with separatist insurgent forces to the south simultaneously, and the bodies of thousands of soldiers on all sides and innocent civilians caught in the middle have been turning up with alarming frequency throughout the country. Intense international pressure is put upon the Sri Lankan president to investigate the claims of atrocities by the government and the rebels, and he reluctantly agrees to an investigation, while he and other officials vehemently deny that the Sri Lankan Army is involved in the torture and slaughter of insurgents and civilians.

It has been 15 years since Anil left her homeland, and Sri Lanka is both familiar and distant to her. She is paired with Sarath, a local archeologist who acts as both an older guide and as a temporizing influence on her inpatient tendencies. Later she meets Sarath's younger brother Gamini, an emergency medicine physician who is haunted by his experiences caring for hundreds of patients with traumatic injuries and seeing nearly as many corpses in the hospital's morgue.

Anil and Sarath come upon an ancient burial ground, and they discover a body that doesn't seem to fit with the others. Anil suspects that it has been placed there recently, and since soldiers guard the site she and Sarath conclude that the man, a local resident who has been brutally tortured before his death, was killed by government forces. Sarath senses the extreme danger of this discovery, and urges Anil to act cautiously, but she is outraged and insists that the government, the Sri Lankan people, and the international community must know what is happening there.

Anil's Ghost begins slowly, as Ondaatje carefully creates a rich tapestry of the lives of the main characters and teaches the reader about the essential techniques of archeology and forensic pathology, which was occasionally of little interest to me. However, the tension and drama progressively build throughout the second half of the book up to its momentous ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but I was left with several unanswered questions, particularly about the motivations and fates of the three main characters that cannot be discussed in this review. ( )
11 vote kidzdoc | May 10, 2014 |
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.

Quotes:
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 |
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"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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:21 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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