Friday, May 15, 2009

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

On a flight between Paris and Toronto two days ago, I watched 3 movies, all based on books: Inkheart, Marley and Me, and The Reader. Then there was a wait of more than 4 hours in Toronto before the final flight home to Edmonton. I was not quite desperate enough for sleep to lay on the floor in the airport, but I needed an absorbing book to carry me through the long wait. I was lucky to have Divisadero with me (thanks to my beloved travelling companion).

This novel, a winner of the Governor General's Award, has garnered so much praise already that I feel that anything I say is but echoes of accolades already received: "hauntingly beautiful" - "vividly original language" - "unusually rich" - "powerful and deeply intimate."

The story begins in 1970s California, where we meet a family of unusual composition. Coop was 4 when the rest of his family was murdered. He was taken in by people at a neighbouring farm, then later that year, his foster mother died giving birth to Anna. Anna's father went home from the hospital with a second baby, Claire, whose mother had also died. The three grew up together, until the event that shattered their family forever.

Anna as an adult is a writer living in south-central France, researching the life and translating the work of a French poet. I had expected to feel more of an evocation of the setting in this part of the book, which is very near where I had just spent 3 weeks, and where I've spent months in previous years. In Divisidero, however, Ondaatje captures the landscape of the human heart more perfectly than that of geographical area. Instead of being transported back to France, I was in a deeper and more mysterious place. I finished the last pages, closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, the plane was touching down in Edmonton.

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