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Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
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Warlight (2018)

by Michael Ondaatje

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1,1786110,917 (3.8)144
From the internationally acclaimed, bestselling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement. In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself--shadowed and luminous at once--we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.… (more)
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English (56)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  Latvian (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
Starts really well, full of mysteries - but, as is often the case, the answers aren't nearly as interesting as the questions. Ondaatje leaves too much in the margins for me. ( )
  alexrichman | Jan 17, 2020 |
A decent tale well-told about the advents concerning a mysterious parting of a child's mother from England. It is associated with wartime Europe and, although I won't spoil it, features thrills and intrigues. Although the first few parts were the best, the rest of the story still held together.

4 stars. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Dec 7, 2019 |
Ondaatje's Warlight is a masterfully crafted post-WWII intrigue, rife with subtlety and elegant prose, brilliant characters with shady histories. It is a story about secrets, both personal and national, about nuance and perception, and the sometimes ambiguity of relationships.

Nathaniel and his sister find themselves placed into the care of a somewhat disreputable, spider-like character known only to them as The Moth, a benevolently neglectful, secretly fierce guardian. Their father has been absent for sometime, ostensibly away on business. Now their mother allegedly leaves the children in order to rendezvous with her absent husband.

Years pass. The children grow, allowed the freedom to roam at night with a runner of illicit goods through London's abandoned canals, learning the questionable honour of thieves and sellers of secrets. But they are safe. The Moth makes sure of that, even after the children's mother makes a fateful reappearance.

When Nathaniel finds a career of his own as an adult, he finds himself working for a division of England's secret service, buried in the archives in an avalanche of research. And there, among the must and mystery he handles every day, he finds the pieces of his parents' history, most particularly of his mother, and the reality is staggering.

Ondaatje's story is memorable, subtle, insidious, and timeless. It has all the qualities of a blockbuster novel with none of the tackiness. A page-turner, but also an eloquent moral tale filled with ambiguity. This is absolutely a must-read. ( )
  fiverivers | Oct 30, 2019 |
A WWII-era (and following) spy novel following the lives of two children whose parents were apparently spies for the Allies. Very Atmospheric but very very rambly. I struggled to maintain interest, or to get the point of it all, by the end. ( )
  viking2917 | Oct 7, 2019 |
Kind of a weird book. Had trouble seeing where it was going, but interesting enough to stick it out and enjoy the creative writing and nuances the author created to tell the story. ( )
  ZachMontana | Sep 29, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
Ondaatje’s shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reivews (Mar 1, 2018)
 
By now we know what we are going to get from an Ondaatje novel: A moody, murky, lightly pretentious and mostly nonlinear investigation of lives and stories that harbor tantalizing gaps.

There will be disquisitions on arcane topics including, frequently, mapmaking. Wartime and/or criminality will feature in the foreground or background. The nature of storytelling will be weighed and found fascinating. The spine of the plot, unlike the spine of a steamed fish, will be nearly impossible to remove whole.....Ondaatje’s new novel, “Warlight,” is his best since “The English Patient.” That sounds like a publicist’s dream quote, but perhaps it isn’t exactly. I was among that sodality of readers who didn’t cotton to “The English Patient,” finding it merely moody, murky and lightly pretentious, a tone poem in search of a whetstone....There’s an unpleasant sense that Ondaatje is regaling us rather than simply putting across a story. In his overweening interest in secrets and tall tales, in his relish for how stories are told, he’s taken the Salman Rushdie exit off the Paul Auster turnpike....Yet his burnished, lukewarm sentences don’t snap to life like the people he enjoys. Reading him on these scruffy men and women is like listening to someone try to play “Long Tall Sally” on solo cello. It’s not awful, but it’s weird.
 
We are in familiar Ondaatje territory here – sensuous prose, curious characters, missing threads, unstable footings. But which of these fragments has real significance? “Do we eventually become what we are originally meant to be?” ponders the narrator – and the reader – as each searches for meaning....This mesmerizing novel begins in 1945, when Nathaniel’s parents disappear, leaving Nathaniel, then 14, and his 16-year old sister in a grimy, postwar South London, “in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” Ostensibly, both parents are going to Singapore for a year, for their father’s new job. Meanwhile, the two men – Walter (tagged “the Moth” by the children for his “shy movements”) and “the Pimlico Darter” (an ex-welterweight boxer) – fill the house with bizarre visitors....Every sentence that Ondaatje writes defies gravity with its elegance, yet is weighty with significance. Water rushes out of taps “like time itself.” There are baffling loose ends and moments of tension. And yet, underneath the uncertainty there is a sturdy cohesion that makes this one of Ondaatje’s most successful and satisfying novels.
 
A boy alone in postwar London is drawn into shadowy worlds in this suspenseful yet frustrating story from the English Patient author....Michael Ondaatje likes writing about uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, not quite with the Keatsian ambition of resisting “any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, but because he relishes the idea of thoughts being fluid and characters essentially unknowable....scenes are habitually softened by half-lights, and all action and most reflection are slowed by rich (some would say overwritten) prose. Hence, too, the procedures of his other novels, in which similarly striking narrative potential is mostly kept in check, or actually stifled...In Ondaatje’s new novel, his eighth, his appetite for imprecision is stronger than ever..Rather than closing the book convinced that psychological insights have been generated by Jamesian withholdings, we might equally well feel that characters have been flattened by our simply not knowing enough about them, and that our interest in their doings is diminished by the same means.
 
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“Most of the great battles are fought in the creases of topographical maps.”
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For Ellen Seligman, Sonny Mehta, and Liz Calder
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In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.
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