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Anil's Ghost: A Novel by Michael Ondaatje

Anil's Ghost: A Novel (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Michael Ondaatje

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Title:Anil's Ghost: A Novel
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Vintage (2001), Paperback, 307 pages
Collections:Your library

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Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (2000)


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Interesting story about Sri Lanka and their civil war and innocent victims. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Sep 4, 2018 |
So this is the first book that was assigned to me in my new Human Rights literature class. It was definitely a new reading experience for me since I hadn’t read too many Human Rights style stories before. Our main character is Anil, who is a forensic anthropologist. I felt that as a reader, I had a hard time connecting with Anil, even though she is a central character. The author gives readers little information about Anil despite the fact she is narrating the novel and it makes her seem detached from the situations that play out throughout the plot. Perhaps this a result of her being educated in England and America? Or that Anil is not supposed to be the focus of the novel and we need to see the story through her eyes.

The story is full of multiple perspectives and shifts from the past and present constantly. This helps to give backstory to the characters and further develops them for the readers. But it also becomes confusing when perspectives/narration becomes blurred and we aren’t sure of if we are in the present/past or even who is speaking at times.

The story overall itself is pretty interesting though as we get to see the forensic procedures of identifying a body called “Sailor” which Anil and her partner, Sarath find. They go to great lengths facing danger from asking intrusive questions and trying to dig out the truth that some people might want to stay hidden. We also get to meet many other interesting people along the way such as Gamini (Sarath’s brother), Ananda (a sculptor and painter), and Palipana (an epigraphist).
( )
  Rlmoulde | Nov 25, 2017 |
(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 |
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In search of a job I came to Bogala
I went down the pits seventy-two fathoms deep 
Invisible as a fly, not seen from the pit head 

Only when I return to the surface 
Is my life safe . . . 

Blessed be the scaffolding deep down in the shaft 
Blessed be the life wheel on the mine's pit head 
Blessed be the chain attached to the life wheel . . . 

                                -- Miner's folk song, Sri Lanka
First words
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..."
"I wanted to find one law to cover all of living.  I found fear. . . ."
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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)

(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)

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