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Anil's Ghost


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About the Author

Booker Prize-winning novelist Michael Ondaatje is the author of many collections of poetry and several books of fiction, including In the Skin of a Lion and The English Patient. He and his wife live in Toronto.


In this lush yet acerbic new novel by OndaatjeDtrumpeted as his first since The English Patient and, interestingly, the first he has set in his native Sri LankaDAnil returns home after 15 years. Hers is not a sentimental journey, however. Anil is a forensic specialist who has recently been unearthing mass graves in Guatemala, and her mission in Sri Lanka is to conduct a human rights investigation. (In the late 1980s and early 1990s, government, antigovernment, and separatist forces clashed to produce countless deaths.) Anil is teamed with archaeologist Sarath Diyasena in an intimate yet uneasy alliance; she is never quite sure where he stands politically, as he is smart enough to have kept his head down. In a government-protected archaeological preserve, they find a skeleton that is assuredly not prehistoric, and Anil is up and running to discover its identity. The reluctant Sarath follows her lead, and as the country's recent tortured history is unfolded, he introduces her to a number of people who help them, including his own black-sheep brother, a doctor. In the end, their efforts come to nothing, and Sarath pays a supreme sacrifice to protect the sometimes puzzlingly nave Anil. In fact, as the novel closes, it is the relationship and reconciliation of Sarath and his brother that, touchingly, takes center stage; Anil and her plight (we've heard about her abortive love life, her mortally ill friend) just fade. This powerful novel will educate even sophisticated readers who think they understand human brutality. Though it falls apart structurally toward the end, dissipating its energy as it fragments, this is still better (and more important) reading than much of what is out there. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]DBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

When forensic anthropologist Anil Tissera returns to Sri Lanka she finds the country ravaged by civil war. She has been sent there to investigate the organised murder campaigns that have engulfed the island and what follows is a story of love, family and identity and a quest to unlock the hidden past. Superb reviews for this new novel by the author of the Booker Prize winning The English Patient.

YA-Anil Tissera, a forensic anthropologist, returns to her homeland of Sri Lanka as a member of an international human-rights group investigating abuses that occurred during the country's decade-long civil war. She teams up with Sarath Diyasena, an archaeologist who works for the Sri Lankan government. Together they unearth a skeleton and, using their skills and training, patiently piece together parts of the man's life and violent death. Along the way, they each deal with ghosts of their own. Ondaatje weaves the present time of the story, sometime in the 1990s, with plenty of flashbacks to the characters' pasts. Several of the murders are mentioned in enough detail to relate how the victim was tortured, but none of the specifics are described. Intensely written, the book skillfully conveys the tension, fear, and stress Anil and Sarath feel as they discover the past life, another ghost, of the skeleton they have found. The author shows the hopelessness and inability of the general population to find any way of stopping the unrelenting massacres, all in the name of politics and beliefs. He deftly describes the effects of war on individuals, a nation, and a people as an entity. Young, attractive Anil and her story should appeal to teens who are interested in human rights, and have seen the movie or read Ondaatje's The English Patient.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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