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Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Michael Ondaatje

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Title:Anil's Ghost
Authors:Michael Ondaatje (Author)
Info:Vintage (2001), Ausgabe: First Edition, Paperback, 307 Seiten
Collections:Untitled collection, Hörbücher, Gehört, aber nicht im Besitz
Tags:Gehört 2012

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Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (2000)

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“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. ( )
  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 |
Anil goes back to Sri Lanka as a human rights worker — very emotional
Poverty + Injustice of these 3rd world countries is sad + mystical — could I even experience this on a visit?

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.
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  christinejoseph | Jul 20, 2016 |
The story opens up in early March as Anil arrives in Sri Lanka after a 15 year absence abroad. Her visit comes as a result of the increasing number of deaths in Sri Lanka from all the warring sides in the 1980s' civil war. While on an expedition with archeologist Sarath, Anil notices that the bones of a certain skeleton do not seem to be 6th century like the rest which leads her to conclude that the skeleton must be a recent death. Unsure where Sarath’s political allegiance lies, Anil is skeptical of his help, but agrees to it anyway.

Along their journey to identify the skeleton, nicknamed Sailor, Anil becomes increasingly suspicious of Sarath. She begins to question his motives and sees his comments as a hint for her to censor herself since their discovery would implicate the Sri Lankan government in the death of Sailor. Later, Anil and Sarath visit his former teacher, Palipana, hoping to have him confirm their suspicions. Palipana then suggests having a reconstruction of the face done so that others might identify him. They agree to do so and head on to a small village named Galapitigama.

There Anil meets Sarath's brother, Gamini, an emergency doctor. She discovers that he is intricately involved in the country's affairs and daily struggles to save the lives of numerous victims. Gamini helps them with a fellow Sri Lankan whose hands have been nailed to a road, and tells them about the various atrocities citizens face as a result of the civil war. Later Anil and Sarath meet with Ananda, on the advice of Palipana, hoping that he will be able to reconstruct the face of Sailor for them. Ananda does so after some days, despite Anil's impatience and skepticism, and then almost immediately attempts suicide, only to be rescued by an intuitive and quick-thinking Anil. Anil and Sarath eventually are able to identify Sailor in a small village.

As Anil prepares a report to present to the authorities, claiming the skeleton as a recent death, and therefore evidence of state or state-sponsored terrorism, the skeleton of Sailor disappears. Frustrated, she goes on with her presentation, using another skeleton, but is upset when Sarath arrives after a lengthy and mysterious absence to ridicule her efforts and claim that she cannot back up her claims with the skeleton she has. Angry and betrayed, on her way out Anil is frequently stopped and inspected, and her belongings and research seized, such that by the time she leaves the building she is left with nothing. Outside, she meets Sarath, who surprises her with the body of Sailor that he has placed in a van. Sarath instructs her to leave quickly and catch a plane out of the country. Relieved, Anil does so in the hope that the evidence will be sufficient. Sarath's actions, however, have severe consequences, leading ultimately to his death.
Anil Tissera is a young Sri Lankan woman who has been absent from her homeland for many years. A forensic anthropologist, she returns to Sri Lanka with an international human rights organization to investigate various murders that are connected to the civil war. Anil works alongside a local official, Sarath. Together they are determined to discover the identity of Sailor, a murder victim’s skeleton. Throughout the novel, there are various references to Anil’s life in America as well as in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka she had been a prodigal swimmer but left to pursue an education in the west. During her stay in America, she became involved in a relationship with a married man, Cullis. The narrative often refers back to this doomed relationship as she tries to cope with the destruction in Sri Lanka.
Sarath Diyasena is a local official who works with Anil to investigate the string of murders in Sri Lanka. His character often seems distant and tortured due to his personal history. His wife died and the narrative later confirms that she committed suicide. Additionally, his political affiliations are ambiguous throughout a majority of the novel and it is unclear if he is a friend or foe to Anil’s investigation. During their investigation, Sarath seeks guidance from a former teacher, Palipana. By the conclusion of the novel, Sarath can be seen as a martyr. He places his own safety in jeopardy to assure Anil’s investigation and so his loyalty to justice and morality are validated.
Palipana is an epigraphist and a former teacher to Sarath. Palipana lives much like a hermit in what appear to be ruins near Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka, with his niece. Though he is now blind he had once been Sarath’s most challenging instructor. Anil and Sarath seek guidance from him with their investigation and he instructs them to find a sculptor/ painter to recreate Sailor’s face.
Ananda was once a sculptor and painter who partook in a traditional ceremony of painting eyes on statues to give them life. However he is now a drunk, due to the disappearance of his wife, Sirissa, amidst the other atrocities of the war. He is hired by Anil and Sarath to recreate Sailor’s face. Ananda often clashes with Anil but helps her nonetheless to give the anonymous victim a face and identity. When Ananda finally completes the recreation of the face he gives it a peaceful face because that is the peace he wishes for his disappeared wife. Shortly after the face’s completion, he slashes his throat in a suicidal attempt, only to be rescued by Anil’s and Sarath’s efforts.
Gamini, also known as "The Mouse", is Sarath’s younger brother. He is an efficient doctor, who since a young age has been living in Sarath’s shadow. He helps Anil and Sarath care for a man named Gunesena who they found brutally wounded on a road. Gamini had been in love with Sarath’s wife and attended to her when she was rushed to the hospital during her suicide. He was there with her when she died. After being left by his own wife he spends the vast majority of his time in the Emergency Services department of the hospital- even sleeping there. He is also addicted to speed.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 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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