1. "The raw truth of an incident never ends," Anna says (p. 1).
What might she mean by this, and how is her statement borne out in
the course of the novel?
2. Setting plays a large role in Divisadero.
How does Ondaatje characterize the Northern California countryside
of Anna's childhood? How would you compare it to the French
countryside where Segura spends his life and where the grown-up
Anna retraces it? To what extent are this novel's characters
connected to their physical environments?
3. Anna is an only child, but one with two adoptive siblings.
So, for that matter, are Claire and Coop. What is the significance
of adoption in this novel? Are its "natural" children necessarily
the most favored? Which of these characters becomes an orphan later
on, by necessity or by choice? How might losing one's original
family have an effect, for better or for worse? Why do you think
Anna is introduced in a chapter titled "The Orphan"? And what might
she mean when she observes, "Those who have an orphan's sense of
history love history"?
4. Because they were raised together, Anna's affair with Coop
has incestuous overtones. Is that why you think her father reacts
so brutally when he finds them together? Might this be what drives
her to reject her former life, or do you think there's another
reason? Compare this liaison with the novel's other
quasi-incestuous pairings: the young Lucien Segura and Marie-Neige,
who has become a symbolic sister to him; Lucien's daughter Lucette
and her younger sister's fiancé; Marie-Neige and her husband when
they masquerade as brother and sister. How does the author seem to
view these relationships? Do they seem to represent a perversion of
intimacy or a heightening of it?
5. Closely aligned with the theme of incest is that of hidden or
mistaken identity, a theme suggested by the Sanskrit term
gotraskhalana, which denotes "calling a loved one by a
wrong name." Which of Ondaatje's characters pretends to be someone
else? Which of them mistakes one person for another, or is misled
into doing so? Which of them sloughs off a name, like the thief who
calls himself Liébard and then, suddenly, on a whim, Astolphe? What
do these impostures and confusions suggest about the nature of
identity? Why might Liébard/Astolphe refuse to be photographed?
6. The past - both personal and collective - plays an important
role in Divisadero. After turning her back on her
childhood, Anna becomes an archivist, cataloguing the past via
Lucien Segura''s life. After two brutal beatings as a result of his
love affairs, Coop forgets his past. How does the past function in
these instances, among others? Would you say these characters are
trapped in it or sustained by it?
7. At what points does history intrude into this novel, and with
what effect? Why might Ondaatje have chosen to set one scene
involving Coop during the first Gulf War and another on the eve of
the 2003 Iraq invasion?
8. How is the theme of the past reflected in the novel's
chronological scheme, which moves from the 1970s to 2003, then
backward in time to the turn of the last century, then forward once
more? Why might Ondaatje have chosen to structure
Divisadero this way? How does this affect
the novel''s sense of suspense, and how might you relate this to
the kind of suspense that young Lucien and Marie-Neige find in
The Black Tulip?
9. Most of Ondaatje''s characters are looking for something or
someone: Anna for a long-dead writer, Coop for love and treasure
(dredged from the river or extracted from the suckers at a card
table), Claire for Coop. Discuss the role quests play in
Divisadero. How, in particular, do they
form a bridge between the novel''s present and its multiple pasts?
Which of the characters'' quests is destructive, and which useful,
10. There are certain key repetitions in the novel. Discuss the
doubling (and sometimes more than doubling) of the following: an
attack by an animal, a woman nursing an injured man, a father
coming upon his daughter making love, a man imparting a skill or
craft to a younger one.
11. What role does craft play in this novel? Discuss those
scenes in which someone learns to, for example, build a cabin, or
deal poker, or repair a clock, or write a novel. What - apart from
the skill - is being imparted? What distinguishes those characters
who have mastered a craft from those who haven''t?
12. Most of Divisadero's characters are
motivated by love, of various sorts. How does Ondaatje characterize
these kinds of love? Which kinds are exalting and which degrading,
and why? Compare Anna''s love for Coop to the love that Claire
feels for him, Coop''s love for Anna to that he later feels for
Bridget, Rafael's love of his mother to Segura's love of his
13. The novel takes its name from a street in San Francisco
where Anna lives for a while. In Spanish the word means both a
division and a vantage point (pp. 142-3). Does this double meaning
suggest a way of looking at - viewing - the entire novel?
14. At least two of this book's narratives lack an obvious
conclusion. Why might Ondaatje have chosen to end them when he
does? How is this related to Anna's aforementioned statement: "The
raw truth of an incident never ends"?