Anil's Ghost

Anil's Ghost

3.54 (12,758 ratings by Goodreads)
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Product details

  • Paperback | 441 pages
  • Chivers Large print (Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & C
  • Bath, United Kingdom
  • Large type / large print
  • Large type edition
  • 075402377X
  • 9780754023777

Review Text

There is a territory that Ondaatje is marking out as distinctively his own. It is the area of war - World War II in The English Patient and the civil war in Sri Lanka in his latest novel, Anil's Ghost - and it is war as no one else has written of it: 'war for the sake of war', war as a way of life, where the tragedy, the terrible waste and horror of war is transformed into a kind of hallucinatory poetry. By setting the violence and ugliness of war in the mesmerizingly beautiful landscape of Sri Lanka - its forests and hermitages, its monsoon rains and bursts of sunlight, its music of cicadas and birds - he lifts the art of creating fiction from real events into another realm, closer to poetry. To step into his novel is to step into a paradise turned to nightmare, peopled by human beings who manage to remain human, with all that implies - cruelty, vivaciousness, indifference as well as yearning, desire and painful sensibility. There is Anil Tissera, the intriguing forensic anthropologist originally from Sri Lanka and returning there after years in London and the American south-west; Sarath Diyasena, the archaeologist who has devoted his life exclusively to the ruins and history of his country; Palipana, the blind master of the field under whom he studied; Sarath's brother Gamini, a surgeon who deadens himself with 'speed' in order to deal with the enormities of death and injury piling up for his attention; Ananda, the craftsman who can bring stone to life by painting in the final detail - the all-seeing eye of Buddha the Compassionate - although he cannot bring back to life the wife who disappeared; and a skeleton nicknamed 'Sailor' who has a central role to play in this story of carnage. The intersection of their difficult, complex lives creates an intricate embroidery that dazzles the eye and ear and engages our deepest concerns. They breathe an air so rare and fine that to close the book and leave their company - and Ondaatje's haunting voice - is to come down from a high mountain or return to the humdrum world from a magic island. Review by ANITA DESAI Editor's note: Anita Desai's books include Diamond Dust and Fasting, Feasting. Most people are aware of the ethnic war beng fought in Sri Lanka by separatist Tamil Tigers. But less is known of the silent war of terror and counter-terror in the Sinhala South waged by anti-government insurgents in the 1980s. Severed heads were found on stakes, bodies were washed up daily on southern beaches, hospital emergency rooms were piled high with the maimed and half-dead. Ondaatje excavates this period in Sri Lanka's buried history. Through the eyes of Anil, a Sri Lankan-born but American-educated forensic anthropologist sent by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights to investigate 'the disappearances', her local co-worker Sarath, a dour archaeologist, and his brother Gamini, a doctor who dedicates his life to mending the broken bodies of war, the horror unfolds. This is not a tale from Ondaatje's own Westernized and somewhat pampered class, whose self-indulgent concerns he humorously recalled in his earlier Sri Lankan memoir, Running in the Family. The story here, meticulously researched for seven years, is that of ordinary people caught up in a war not of their own making and of professionals trying to keep up with their consciences. Excavation is the theme - finding out exactly who had inhabited the body of a contemporary skeleton, nicknamed 'Sailor' by Anil, unearthed at a government archaeological site. But it is Anil, too, who is being unearthed, challenged, her liberal values tested on the touchstone of terror. Each character has his or her own ghost to come to terms with. Anil's ghost is not that of Sailor, but of Sarath, who, to enable her to have the evidence to expose to the world what is happening to his country, puts his own life at risk. But it is the people of the countryside who can finally lay the ghosts to rest. And it is a refurbished Buddhism that can restore to the island its vision and humanity. The style is at times as stark and spare as the skeletons themselves; at others, as lyrical as the land it lovingly paints. Reviewed by A SIVANANDAN Editor's note: A Sivanandan is the Sri Lankan author of a novel, When Memory Dies, and a collection of stories, Where the Dance Is. (Kirkus UK)
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Rating details

12,758 ratings
3.54 out of 5 stars
5 17% (2,139)
4 36% (4,650)
3 34% (4,275)
2 11% (1,352)
1 3% (342)
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