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
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?