Anil's Ghost

Michael Ondaatje, Author Alfred A Knopf Inc $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-41053-6
While he is generally considered a Canadian writer, Booker Prize-winner Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, and he has chosen to set his powerful and resonant new novel in that country during its gruesome civil war in the mid-1980s. Written in his usual cryptic, elliptical style, much of the story is told in flashbacks, with Ondaatje hinting at secrets even as he divulges facts, revealing his characters' motivations through their desperate or passionate behavior and, most of all, conveying the essence of a people, a country and its history via individual stories etched against a background of natural beauty and human brutality. Anil Tessira, a 33-year-old native Sri Lankan who left her country 15 years before, is a forensic pathologist sent by the U.N. human rights commission to investigate reports of mass murders on the island. Atrocities are being committed by three groups: the government, anti-government insurgents, and separatist guerrillas. Working secretly, these warring forces are decimating a population paralyzed by pervasive fear. Taciturn archeologist Sarath Diyasena is assigned by the government to be Anil's partner; at 49, he is emotionally withdrawn from the chaotic contemporary world, reserving his passion for the prehistoric shards of his profession. Together, Anil and Sarath discover that a skeleton interred among ancient bones in a government-protected sanctuary is that of a recently killed young man. Anil defiantly sets out to document this murder by identifying the victim and then making an official report. Throughout their combined forensic and archeological investigation, detailed by Ondaatje with the meticulous accuracy readers will remember from descriptions of the bomb sapper's procedures in The English Patient, Sarath remains a mysterious figure to Anil. Her confusion about his motives is reinforced when she meets his brother, Gamini, an emergency room doctor who is as intimately involved in his country's turmoil as Sarath refuses to be. The lives of these characters, and of others in their orbits, emerge circuitously, layer by layer. In the end, Anil's moral indignation--and her innocence--place her in exquisite danger, and Sarath is moved to a life-defining sacrifice. Here the narrative, whose revelations have been building with a quiet ferocity, assumes the tension of a thriller, its chilling insights augmented by the visceral emotional effects that masterful literature can provide. More effective than a documentary, Ondaatje's novel satisfies one of the most exalted purposes of fiction: to illuminate the human condition through pity and terror. It may well be the capstone of his career. 200,000 first printing; Random House audio. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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FORMATS
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-0-7710-6893-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-41566-1
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-375-72437-4
Compact Disc - 978-0-375-41567-8
Hardcover - 499 pages - 978-0-7862-2790-7
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-676-97361-7
Compact Disc - 978-0-7366-9019-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-676-97324-2
Compact Disc - 978-0-676-97323-5
Paperback - 443 pages - 978-0-7862-2791-4
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-1-4088-1978-4
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-09-955445-5
Open Ebook - 978-0-307-37589-6
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4159-5168-2
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4481-1283-8
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-05689-3
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