Anil's Ghost

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Anil's Ghost

by Michael Ondaatje

Knopf Canada | April 17, 2001 | Trade Paperback

Anil's Ghost is rated 3.0857 out of 5 by 35.
Following the phenomenal success of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient, expectations were almost insurmountable. The internationally acclaimed #1 bestseller had made Ondaatje the first Canadian novelist ever to win the Booker. Four years later, in 1996, a motion picture based on the book brought the story to a vast new audience. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, went on to win numerous prizes, among them nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Worldwide English-language sales of the book topped two million copies.

But in April 2000, Anil’s Ghost was widely hailed as Ondaatje’s most powerful and engrossing novel to date. Winning a Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and the Giller Prize, Anil’s Ghost became an international bestseller. “Nowhere has Ondaatje written more beautifully,” said The New York Times Book Review.

The setting is Sri Lanka. Steeped in centuries of cultural achievement and tradition, the country has been ravaged in the late twentieth century by bloody civil war. As in The English Patient, Ondaatje’s latest novel follows a woman’s attempt to piece together the lost life of a victim of war. Anil Tissera, born in Sri Lanka but educated in England and the U.S., is sent by an international human rights group to participate in an investigation into suspected mass political murders in her homeland. Working with an archaeologist, she discovers a skeleton whose identity takes Anil on a fascinating journey that involves a riveting mystery. What follows, in a novel rich with character, emotion, and incident, is a story about love and loss, about family, identity and the unknown enemy. And it is a quest to unlock the hidden past – like a handful of soil analyzed by an archaeologist, the story becomes more diffuse the farther we reach into history.

A universal tale of the casualties of war, unfolding as a detective story, the book gradually gives way to a more intricate exploration of its characters, a symphony of loss and loneliness haunted by a cast of solitary strangers and ghosts. The atrocities of a seemingly futile, muddled war are juxtaposed against the ancient, complex and ultimately redemptive culture and landscape of Sri Lanka.

Anil’s Ghost is Michael Ondaatje''s first novel to be set in the country of his birth. “There’s a tendency with us in England and North America to say it’s a book ‘about Sri Lanka.’ But it’s just my take on a few characters, a personal tunnelling into that … The book’s not just about Sri Lanka; it’s a story that’s very familiar in other parts of the world” – in Africa, in Yugoslavia, in South America, in Ireland. “I didn’t want it to be a political tract. I wanted it to be a human study of people in the midst of fear.”

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 320 pages, 7.98 × 5.16 × 0.88 in

Published: April 17, 2001

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676973612

ISBN - 13: 9780676973617

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A masterpiece Ondaatje is a master of subtlety, of the ambiguity of life, of the grey that washes extreme situations. He is at his best in Anil's Ghost. The story itself is a simple one: a woman (Anil) searches for the identity of a skeleton she finds when on an international human rights mission in war ravaged Sri Lanka. But as with most stories Ondaatje tells, simplicity becomes weighted with the emotional enganglements of both political and personal history. There is a conversation beneath the dialogue, a narrative never told but eloquent in its silence. In some ways, I was reminded of Geoff Ryman's The King's Last Song. There is that same sense of a country unable to celebrate its vibrant history, left only with silent screams of those slaughtered on the altar of political expedience, and their ghosts. There is an eeriness in the environment Ondaatje creates. Deserving of it accolades, Anil's Ghost is a masterpiece.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Awful I finished this book by skim reading it and am sure I didn't miss a thing. Read the first half but the story jumps around so much,even sentence to sentence that it just made me angry. Sentences are suppose to lead in to each other, not leap all over the place. I found this book a collection of disjointed thoughts and ideas that left no sense of having gone anywhere. I will not be buying any more of his books.
Date published: 2011-10-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Torture Reading this book was basically like torture. Most of the time I was lost. I had no idea what was happening. I only read it because of school, otherwise, I will never read this book again.
Date published: 2009-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Haunting Only a handful of authors have the ability to write a verbal cinema, but luckily for Canada, Ondaajte is one of them. "Anil's Ghost" follows the superiority of "The English Patient" while introducing to the new millennium a fictitious piece flooded with graceful phrases and beautiful images exploding amid the tribulations of the late twentieth century Sri Lankan civil war. Ondaatje allows the reader to enter a world of unparalleled exotic beauty but then contrasts this with the dark evils of genocide. Anil Tissera, a skilled anthropologist and archeologist, is sent to her homeland of Ceylon to uncover who is involved in the island's mysterious murders. By returning from abroad she is distrusted by her people in the same way they distrust government officials and guerilla separtists. Digging beneath the layers of her past, Anil must search for meaning in the present to understand herself and regain her sense of belonging. Her journey is one that reexamines the significance of humanity, history, and self.
Date published: 2006-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meticulous Metaphors! A daring and triumphant piece. Ondaatje's mastery of rhetoric made this a work that was impossible to put down. A shocking account of war in a country unfamilliar to western audiences. This is a must read. Enjoy!
Date published: 2006-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfection This prose made my heart move in a way it never has before. Ondaatje inserts 'random' pieces of anthropological knowledge that create wonderful lucidity. The blood rushes through me as he illustrates the beauty of the fragility of human life. More than remarkable. boomboomboomboom.
Date published: 2004-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Michael Ondaatje has proven again that, while the meaning in his book is not always immediately evident, it is well worth it to sit and ponder, for in Anil's Ghost is a vision of humanity that encompases compassion and understanding in the face of hate and injustice. Ondaatje's background (emmigrated from Sri Lanka in '63) allows him to have an educated (has he ever provided any less) point of view of the society in which he has based this tale. His background as a poet is ever evident and the prose flows like a song. I can hardly wait until his next.
Date published: 2003-08-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Anil's Ghost Reading this book is the literary equivalent of being locked in the bathroom with an 8-year-old Canadian Tire catalogue.
Date published: 2002-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beneath the chaos There is, when one looks at the book from a romantic sense, a stunning simplcity that, in it's essence, eradicates nihilism from literature. One can accept this book at face value and not feel like they have ignored it. There is an instictive element that grasps your attention, subconsciously, and pulls you through the, somewhat, melencholy story. Oscar Wilde said, I'll believe anything as long as it's incredible, and one can easily believe this book.
Date published: 2002-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Storytelling without the story Ondaatje proved to be the master of the character descriptions. Only, in this extensive, 300-page character workout, he forgot to include the story. His perfectly described heroes exist in a storyless vacuum, author leaving the readers to wonder about the causes and circumstances leading to the situation he writes about. At the end, Anil didnÕt face her ghost, we find out almost nothing about her childhood in Sri Lanka, which would bring up the ghost. The chaos in the country, which would help us understand her fear, never develops into a true event, but we learn a thing or two about pathology along the way. It must have been a slow year in Canadian literature when ÒAnilÕs GhostÓ won its awards. From the author of ÒThe English PatientÓ one would expect more. Much more.
Date published: 2002-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Indecorous Conclusion Though Michael Ondaatje is an acclaimed writer, Anil’s Ghost fails to live up to standards and expectations because of an impotent plot. Ondaatje puts tremendous effort in describing his characters and sub characters, intricately painting their details chapter after chapter. However, the elements of his characters seem to overpower the plot. As a good piece of literature achieves, Anil’s Ghost fails to tie all loose ends by solving the various issues involved in the plot. Order is not restored and justice is not committed. Ondaatje seems to have a careless notion towards this piece of work of his, jading the book with unproductive subplots as page fillers. The plot and subplots are left unanswered. The reader, engrossed in the suspense with every minor subplot is jerked abruptly as his or her journey comes to a rapid screeching halt. Ondaatje, as many writers have done, seems to have been in a rush to finish his work, his piece of writing concluding in the opposite direction from where it should be.
Date published: 2001-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not just another assignment Ahh, yet another novel assigned for yet another class...or is it? Reading this book for a university class was completely different than reading it "for fun", yet threw lights on it I never would have experienced. Set in Ondaatje's native Sri Lanka, this book can really be called nothing but the over-used adjective 'haunting'. But it is haunting, literally. All of the characters are in some way haunted, whether it be by their past, their expected or non-existant future, or by people they cannot let go of. My advice while reading this book: If you are going to great lengths and putting out great effort to try to put all the events and characters into order, you will miss out. Don't over-obsess about why some sections are italicized and some aren't, or asking where does this person "fit", try not to focus on making it all MAKE SENSE, and just let the images and story take over...you'll end up understanding more in the end if you do. This book is three thumbs up!!
Date published: 2001-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Do M. Ondaatjie Some Justice Who says Ondaatjie's work is easy read? If you don't want to think or feel, go for Clancy or Grisham. Those with the harsh criticisms out there, are you capable of thinking and feeling? Anil's Ghost is about madness in politics, madness in society, and madness at heart. Ondaatjie is sketchy in his writing, as usual. He offers some minutest detail on side scenes and minor characters. But his superiority and mastery shine through when he keeps the reader focused on the main thread of the story with a minimalist approach. Any seeming digressions are done deliberately and add to the beauty of the book.
Date published: 2001-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Profound and Moving Book The reviews which complain that this book is not about anything are by the same people who read Beckett's Three Novels or Joyce's Finnegans Wake and don't get it. There are a number of books by either Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele they may wish to read instead. But for a deeply moving look at life in a situation that is beyond comprehension, this is the book to read. Here's a hint as to who the ghost of the title is: the one who saves Anil and in doing so, dies. Also the one who gives Anil her goal in this story at the beginning. These are different characters, by the way. Figuring out how they are the same (not = identical) is the job of we who read it.
Date published: 2001-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Review of Anil's Ghost In reading Anil's Ghost, I learned a great deal about the political issues in Sri Lanka, and about the field of forensics. It seemed to me that the author's character development was so thorough it overshadowed the plot. I finished the book feeling that I had missed something.
Date published: 2001-01-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Betrayal After reading the English Patient (which was literally a piece of art), I was very excited about reading Anil's Ghost. However, i found myself angry after i read the last page of this book. I was extremely disappointed!! I felt betrayed! The ending was horrible! Its as if MO got tired of writing in the last 50 pages! The reader was just discarded in the end. I also felt that the charaters were let down, especially Anil. Who or what was Anil's Ghost...i dont think the story or her charater were developed enough. This book was really a collection of archeological details.
Date published: 2001-01-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What ghost?? After reading the compelling story of The English Patient I was dying to read Anil's Ghost. I have to say his latest book is a disappointment. The story is very dry and almost has no substance. I forced myself to finish reading it just because I paid money for it.
Date published: 2000-12-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Who needs sleeping pills?? Just read this book! Wow, with how many bestseller lists this book was on you'd think it would be at least half decent!! I love reading, but not this book. This will be the first book I've given up on in a VERY long time. Even if I'm not enjoying a book I stick with it just in case it gets better. However, after reading some of the other reviews on this site I'm giving up because it doesn't seem that it has any hope of getting better. Besides, I only read one or two paragraphs and I'm asleep!! I've been trying to read this book for so long I forget what happened in the beginning!!
Date published: 2000-11-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Big disapointment I am a huge Ondaatje fan, but found this disappointing. The concept of the book is interesting, he obviously went to great lengths to research it, and the writing is lyrical as ever, but things fall apart at the end. Seems to me his editors were afraid to put a pen to this and have him tighten up the plot. My friends and I were all let down by it. If you've read The English Patient and want to read more, you are better off exploring his earlier works.
Date published: 2000-11-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ondaatje Please, if you have never read Ondaatje, please do not read this novel as if it were a book. Do not expect anything - approach it with a clean palate and you will discover writing so eloquent that it cannot be described.
Date published: 2000-11-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Writer's Craft, not his Masterpiece Ondaatje definitely possessed the ingredients for a great novel: interesting characters overwhelmed by civil strife, images of senseless carnage and Buddha statues being restored in Sri Lankan fields. But the main characters are overwhelmed, rather than being transformed, by their plight. The most memorable characters are secondary characters (the blind academic and his niece, the eye painter and the memory of his wife, the doctor), which made me indifferent to the central mystery. The final imagery will stay with me forever, but the unnecessary probings into the protagonist's past were taking away from the larger drama of human suffering and loss. In other words, we were being set up to focus on Anil and her mission, when, in fact, the true heroes were the "minor" characters who persevered in the face of civil war and death. So, Ondaatje's craft is evident, but the art is not transcendent.
Date published: 2000-09-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Anil, whatever happened to you? Michael Ondaatje's book, Anil's Ghost was on every best seller's list. This was my only reason to pick up the book as I am not familiar with any of his previous works. I cannot understate the disappointment I felt when I finally turned the final page. The book is beautiful written in a fluid and prose-like fashion, but the story line is disjointed and confusing to say the least. Different bits and pieces of information that do not tie togeather in the book. It appears the main character of the book is a girl name Anil, on a mission. We are lead to a climax in the book, and then left stranded! Did I miss something? I would not recommend this book to any of my friends. It has left too much unfinished business! It appears the only real fiction about this book is the status rating!!
Date published: 2000-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from unfulfilled The novel was enjoyable when read with the assumption that the plot would be as rich and deep as the style of the novel. But in the end, there ceased to be any plot, rather what seems to be a novel geared to inspire another movie script. There is no doubt about his ability to draw the reader into an exotic world, but he fails to impact those who read the novel. The only thing that I got from the end was the significance of the title and how it tied into the novel. I'm not impressed, It's all style and no substance.
Date published: 2000-08-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Yuck Where's the story? The only reason I finished this book was because I figured it had to get better....NOPE! I didn't care about any of the characters, the story was pointless and the ending bit. Definitly not worth the time.
Date published: 2000-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a strikingly beautiful novel With Anil's Ghost, Michael Ondaatje offers us a hauntingly honest and beautiful story about what it means to be human in the 20th century. This book forces us to come face to face with some of the grittiest realities of war and violence, and invites us to try to locate some form of sanity and hope within such a desolate climate. The characters' constant attempts to re-create the past, to reconstruct the present, and to fix the future act as a soothing refrain to play against the darkness of their world as it is ravaged by a civil war.
Date published: 2000-08-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Anil's Ghost I found this book boring and hard to follow. I bought it in on the impression of it being a hard-to-put-down mystery and I was extremely disappointed. It was bland and really had no point. Where was the mystery? I used this book to put myself to sleep at night, a few pages and I was out.
Date published: 2000-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Anil's Ghost This is perhaps one of Ondaaje's most eloquent and heartbreaking, yet triumphant, stories. Once again, Ondaaje brings surrounding, history and circumstance to life through the eyes of his complex characters. The pursuit and ultimate cost for truth in a world filled with violence is the central theme told from the perspective of Anil, an expatriot Forensic Anthropologist returning to her native Sri Lanka. Although Anil is obviously the central focus of the story, the voices of the other characters are woven into a poignant history that is both moving for its ideas and for the rich language used to convey it.
Date published: 2000-07-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beautifully Written IF you take the time to absorb this book and really allow the essence of what Ondaaje is trying to say soak in, all the weatlh that this book has to offer will be appreciated. I think you will find that this book is far from the boring, put-you-to-sleep kind of novel, that so many profess is to be. If this book is read carefully you will find that there is so much meaning wrapped up in it, that goes beyond the political turmoil in sri lanka or of a native misplaced sri lanken girl returning to her homeland. Give this book a chance and you just might see what i mean.
Date published: 2000-06-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Don't Believe The Hype Boring, flabby and impossible to care about. My main problem with this book was that Anil herself was a paper thin character who travelled a circuitous and unbelievable trip around the world befor returning to her home in Sri Lanka. Strangely, along the way she seemed to pick up the sentiments, emotions and even the likes of an aging Toronto artiste. A Sri Lankan woman who was educated in the U.S. Southwest who happened to quote the McGarrigle Sisters to herself? Please. People are falling opver themselves to praise this book, but of the 5 people I know who have read it, one thought it was a masterpiece, 1 thought it was "okay" 2 thought it was a huge disappointment and the fifth didn't bother finishing it. You've been warned.
Date published: 2000-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic Ondaajte's newest release lives up to all his previous work. His prose is melodic and mesmerizing. His characters are rich and interestingly depicted. Sri Lanka, in spite of the civil war, comes alive with beauty and culture. A great read for the summer in a hammock or for the fall in front of the fireplace.
Date published: 2000-06-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Worse than a bowl of No-name brand cornflakes Let me tell you...I needed to keep hitting the snooze button to finish this book. It put me to sleep many times.
Date published: 2000-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from one for the dream team Anil, a poor lost sole journies throughout the world in search of her sole or true being was my impression of this classic, a search for true love in the end. A tear jerking heartfelt read. My bookclub and myself enjoyed it emmensly. And what a price, especcially for a mother with a family of five. A bargan basement price for a platinum selling book.
Date published: 2000-05-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Expected more For the most part, Anil's Ghost is a very engaging story. The themes and settings are diverse, and one learns a lot about Sri Lanka during it's difficult period, much like Rohinton Mistry does in Such a Long Journey. Unlike Mistry's books though, Anil's Ghost loses its focus in the final 100 or so pages. Diverse themes become disparate elements, and it becomes very hard to see how they relate to the main story. This book was heavily hyped, and my expectations were high. C'est la vie.
Date published: 2000-05-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Anil's your host Simply put, you can pick up anything by MO and read it almost from start to finish in one go. You don't want to stop because of his power of intrigue,suspense and language. A use of language that never bores, irritates, condesends or enflames. MO has mastered a style almost unrivalled in English fiction because no matter what he is saying, you want to hear it all and right away. You want to find out what the mystery is and in most cases aren't disappointed when you don't. Enough said I recommend this book as a wonderful piece of work aside from the mutilations, roadside cruxifixions, heads on stakes, ball bearing explosion vaporisations and other methods of human brutality. Not to scare off the faint of heart, but MO's Sri Lanka is a dark, schizophrenic island, in which no one suffers from paranoia, because someone really is watching and talking about you. Anil's obsession with Sailor's human remains puzzles me, and her vaguely explained occupational purpose in Sri Lanka is unclear, but the beauty of the writing, with MO's rhythymic pacing, like a drum beating below the surface of a sacrifical buring ground overrides this. Strange, a book so full of brutality, visera, and plasma, but best enjoyed by the fire with a glass of cognac. Read it and see what I mean.
Date published: 2000-05-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Anil`s Ghost I am the ultimate Ondaatje fan, reading and re-reading his novels (there are so few!) and never tiring of them. So imagine my pleasure when I walked into Chapters one day to unexpectedly discover a new Ondaatje title, Anil`s Ghost. I bought it immediately! However, I was greatly disappointed in this novel. I read it through once, bare of the romance of war or fame and even of the striking prose characteristic of Ondaatje`s other works. Caught off guard, book in hand, in a "coffee house" situation by an acquaintance of Ondaatje who knows how much I admire this writer, I was at a loss to find even one passage from Anil`s Ghost which would do justice to Ondaatje`s genius. I`m not saying that Anil`s Ghost is bad or even flawed. But it`s not Ondaatje! At least, not the Ondaatje that I have taken refuge in so often. When a reader`s expectations have been raised as high as mine have been for Michael Ondaatje, an average work like this comes across like a major disaster. Good for new readers but not for me.
Date published: 2000-05-08

– More About This Product –

Anil's Ghost

by Michael Ondaatje

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 320 pages, 7.98 × 5.16 × 0.88 in

Published: April 17, 2001

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676973612

ISBN - 13: 9780676973617

Read from the Book

Chapter One She arrived in early March, the plane landing at Katunayake airport before the dawn. They had raced it ever since coming over the west coast of India, so that now passengers stepped onto the tarmac in the dark. By the time she was out of the terminal the sun had risen. In the West she''d read, The dawn comes up like thunder, and she knew she was the only one in the classroom to recognize the phrase physically. Though it was never abrupt thunder to her. It was first of all the noise of chickens and carts and modest morning rain or a man squeakily cleaning the windows with newspaper in another part of the house. As soon as her passport with the light-blue UN bar was processed, a young official approached and moved alongside her. She struggled with her suitcases but he offered no help. ''How long has it been? You were born here, no?'' ''Fifteen years.'' ''You still speak Sinhala?'' ''A little. Look, do you mind if I don''t talk in the car on the way into Colombo — I''m jet-lagged. I just want to look. Maybe drink some toddy before it gets too late. Is Gabriel''s Saloon still there for head massages?'' ''In Kollupitiya, yes. I knew his father.'' ''My father knew his father too.'' Without touching a single suitcase he organized the loading of the bags into the car. ''Toddy!'' He laughed, continuing his conversation. ''First thing after fifteen years. The return of the prodigal.'' ''I''m not a prodigal.'' An hour later he shook hands energetically with her at the
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From the Publisher

Following the phenomenal success of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient, expectations were almost insurmountable. The internationally acclaimed #1 bestseller had made Ondaatje the first Canadian novelist ever to win the Booker. Four years later, in 1996, a motion picture based on the book brought the story to a vast new audience. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, went on to win numerous prizes, among them nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Worldwide English-language sales of the book topped two million copies.

But in April 2000, Anil’s Ghost was widely hailed as Ondaatje’s most powerful and engrossing novel to date. Winning a Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and the Giller Prize, Anil’s Ghost became an international bestseller. “Nowhere has Ondaatje written more beautifully,” said The New York Times Book Review.

The setting is Sri Lanka. Steeped in centuries of cultural achievement and tradition, the country has been ravaged in the late twentieth century by bloody civil war. As in The English Patient, Ondaatje’s latest novel follows a woman’s attempt to piece together the lost life of a victim of war. Anil Tissera, born in Sri Lanka but educated in England and the U.S., is sent by an international human rights group to participate in an investigation into suspected mass political murders in her homeland. Working with an archaeologist, she discovers a skeleton whose identity takes Anil on a fascinating journey that involves a riveting mystery. What follows, in a novel rich with character, emotion, and incident, is a story about love and loss, about family, identity and the unknown enemy. And it is a quest to unlock the hidden past – like a handful of soil analyzed by an archaeologist, the story becomes more diffuse the farther we reach into history.

A universal tale of the casualties of war, unfolding as a detective story, the book gradually gives way to a more intricate exploration of its characters, a symphony of loss and loneliness haunted by a cast of solitary strangers and ghosts. The atrocities of a seemingly futile, muddled war are juxtaposed against the ancient, complex and ultimately redemptive culture and landscape of Sri Lanka.

Anil’s Ghost is Michael Ondaatje''s first novel to be set in the country of his birth. “There’s a tendency with us in England and North America to say it’s a book ‘about Sri Lanka.’ But it’s just my take on a few characters, a personal tunnelling into that … The book’s not just about Sri Lanka; it’s a story that’s very familiar in other parts of the world” – in Africa, in Yugoslavia, in South America, in Ireland. “I didn’t want it to be a political tract. I wanted it to be a human study of people in the midst of fear.”

From the Jacket

Following the phenomenal success of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning third novel, The English Patient, expectations were almost insurmountable. The internationally acclaimed #1 bestseller had made Ondaatje the first Canadian novelist ever to win the Booker. Four years later, in 1996, a motion picture based on the book brought the story to a vast new audience. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, went on to win numerous prizes, among them nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Worldwide English-language sales of the book topped two million copies.

But in April 2000, Anil’s Ghost was widely hailed as Ondaatje’s most powerful and engrossing novel to date. Winning a Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize and the Giller Prize, Anil’s Ghost became an international bestseller. “Nowhere has Ondaatje written more beautifully,” said The New York Times Book Review.

The setting is Sri Lanka. Steeped in centuries of cultural achievement and tradition, the country has been ravaged in the late twentieth century by bloody civil war. As in The English Patient, Ondaatje’s latest novel follows a woman’s attempt to piece together the lost life of a victim of war. Anil Tissera, born in Sri Lanka but educated in England and the U.S., is sent by an international human rights group to participate in an investigation into suspected mass political murders in her homeland. Working with an archaeologist, she discovers a skeleton whose identity takes Anil on a fascinating journey that involves a riveting mystery. What follows, in a novel rich with character, emotion, and incident, is a story about love and loss, about family, identity and the unknown enemy. And it is a quest to unlock the hidden past – like a handful of soil analyzed by an archaeologist, the story becomes more diffuse the farther we reach into history.

A universal tale of the casualties of war, unfolding as a detective story, the book gradually gives way to a more intricate exploration of its characters, a symphony of loss and loneliness haunted by a cast of solitary strangers and ghosts. The atrocities of a seemingly futile, muddled war are juxtaposed against the ancient, complex and ultimately redemptive culture and landscape of Sri Lanka.

Anil’s Ghost is Michael Ondaatje’s first novel to be set in the country of his birth. “There’s a tendency with us in England and North America to say it’s a book ‘about Sri Lanka.’ But it’s just my take on a few characters, a personal tunnelling into that … The book’s not just about Sri Lanka; it’s a story that’s very familiar in other parts of the world” – in Africa, in Yugoslavia, in South America, in Ireland. “I didn’t want it to be a political tract. I wanted it to be a human study of people in the midst of fear.”

About the Author

Author of eleven books of poetry, four novels and a fictionalized memoir, Michael Ondaatje was born in 1943 in Colombo, capital of the British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Of Tamil, Sinhalese and Dutch descent, he was the youngest of four children. He grew up during the halcyon days of colonial Ceylon on the Kutapitiya tea estate, “the most beautiful place in the world,” as he described in an interview with The Guardian . His mother’s real gift to Michael was her enthusiasm for the arts. Of his father, who served in the Ceylon light infantry, Ondaatje has said: “My father was in tea and alcohol; he dealt in tea and he drank the alcohol.” He died of a brain hemorrhage after Michael had left Sri Lanka, so Michael never got to know his father as an adult. “He is still one of those books we long to read whose pages remain uncut. He was a sad and mercurial figure. There was a lot I didn’t know about him … In all my books there are mysteries that are not fully told.” When Michael was five his parents separated. His mother soon went to England with two of her children; Michael stayed behind and lived with relatives, joining his mother and siblings at the age of eleven. He relinquished his sarong and donned a tie – an item of clothing he’d never seen before – to attend Dulwich College, whose alumni include writers Graham Swift, P. G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler. (One of Michael’s former teachers exp
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Editorial Reviews

"Read this book. Be changed." — The Globe and Mail “Unquestionably Ondaatje’s finest work ... A book that surpasses The English Patient in both depth of feeling and intellectual reach … Anil’s Ghost is the most remarkable of the many remarkable novels Michael Ondaatje has written.” — The Globe and Mail “ Anil’s Ghost moves with the suspense of a mystery, yet with breathtaking grace … A rare triumph.” — The Guardian (London) “A truly wondrous book. The layers of human history, the depth of the human body, the heartache of love and fratricide have rarely been conveyed with such dignity and translucence. I was enthralled as I have not been since The English Patient .” —Ariel Dorfman “Ondaatje’s most mature and engrossing novel … In Anil’s Ghost he has employed all his talents to create a searing, compassionate novel of extraordinary beauty and desolation.” — Daily News “Breathtaking ... Stunningly beautiful … Compelling ... Michael Ondaatje once again commands both astonishment and admiration – astonishment at the quality of his prose and admiration for the emotional energy that informs his work ... With the consummate skill of the master novelist, Ondaatje, each word carefully chosen, builds his story toward its startling conclusion … His sense of sad inevitability and his exquisite use of imagery lend themselves to the
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Bookclub Guide

1. Juxtapositions and fragments are central to the style and structure of Anil''s Ghost. The novel opens with a scene in italics, in which we are introduced to Anil as part of a team of scientists unearthing the bodies of missing people in Guatemala. Then there is a brief scene in which Anil arrives in Sri Lanka to begin her investigation for the human rights group. This is followed by another scene in italics, describing "the place of a complete crime" -- a place where Buddhist cave sculptures were "cut out of the walls with axes and saws" [p. 12]. How do these sections -- upon which the author does not comment -- work together, and what is the cumulative effect of such brief scenes?

2. Why is the story of how Anil got her name [pp. 67-8] important to the construction of her character? Does it imply that she has created an identity for herself, based on fierce internal promptings, that is at odds with her parents'' wishes for her? Is Anil''s personality well-suited to the conditions in which she finds herself in Sri Lanka?

3. Forensic expertise such as Anil''s often occupies a central place in the mystery genre -- as in the popular Kay Scarpetta mysteries by Patricia Cornwell or in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In what ways does Anil''s Ghost fit into the genre of mystery fiction, and how does it transcend such a classification?

4. How does the section called "The Grove of Ascetics" extend the novel''s exploration of the meaning of history? What is the relevance, if any, of Palipana''s knowledge? How does the ancient culture of the island relate to its present situation? Does the past have permanence?

5. If you have read The English Patient, how does Anil''s Ghost compare with that novel? Is it similar, with its focus on war, on history, on how people behave in dangerous political situations -- or is it quite different?

6. What does Anil''s affair with Cullis, as well as what we learn about her marriage, tell us about her passion and her sensuality? Given her past, is it surprising that there is no romantic involvement for her in this story?

7. Michael Ondaatje has published many books of poetry; how do the style and structure of this novel exhibit the poetic sensibility of its author?

8. Is there a single or multiple meaning behind the "ghost" of the book''s title? Who or what is Anil''s Ghost?

9. Why are Anil, Sarath, and Gamini so consumed by their work? What parts of their lives are they necessarily displacing or postponing for the sake of their work? Is the choice of professional over personal life the correct one, ethically speaking, within the terms of this novel?

10. Does the story of Gamini''s childhood provide an adequate explanation for the rivalry between him and Sarath? Or is the rivalry caused solely by the fact that as adults they both loved the same woman? Does Sarath''s wife love Gamini rather than her husband? Which of the two brothers is the more admirable one?

11. As Anil thinks about the mystery of Sailor''s death, the narrator tells us, "She used to believe that meaning allowed a person a door to escape grief and fear. But she saw that those who were slammed and stained by violence lost the power of language and logic" [p. 55]. How does this insight about the loss of language and logic explain Ananda''s behavior? Is Anil''s search for "meaning" ultimately to be seen as naive within a context which, as the narrator tells us, "The reason for war was war" [p. 43]?

12. The acknowledgments at the end of the book tell us that the names of people who disappeared (mentioned on p. 41) are taken from an actual list in Amnesty International reports (see p. 310). Similarly, the description of the assassination of the president [pp. 291-95] is based on true events, though the president''s name has been changed. Why does Ondaatje insert the names of real people, and the real situations in which they died or disappeared, in a work of fiction?

13. Certain tersely narrated episodes convey the terrifying strangeness of Sri Lanka''s murderous atmosphere. About the bicycle incident he witnessed, in which the person being kidnapped was forced to embrace his captor as he was taken away, Sarath says, "It was this necessary intimacy that was disturbing" [p. 154]. Another scene describes Anil and Sarath''s rescue of the crucified Gunesena; another the disappearance of Ananda''s wife. How does Ondaatje''s handling of these three separate examples of violence and its victims make the reader understand the horror of living with politically-motivated murder as an everyday reality?

14. What are the elements that give such emotional power to the scene in which Gamini examines and tends to the body of his murdered brother?

15. Given the crisis that occurs when Anil testifies about Sailor at the hospital, has she brought about more harm than good? If so, is she ultimately to be seen as an outsider who has intruded in a situation she doesn''t fully understand? Is Sarath the true hero of the novel, and does he sacrifice his life for hers?

16. The novel ends with a chapter called "Distance," in which a vandalized statue of Buddha is reconstructed and Ananda, the artisan, is given the task of sculpting the god''s eyes. Does this religious ceremony cast the novel''s ending in a positive or hopeful light? How important is the theme of Buddhism, and the presence of the Buddha''s gaze, throughout this story?

17. How does Ondaatje manage to convey a powerful sense of place in this novel? What are the details that communicate Sri Lanka''s unique geographical and cultural identity?

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