email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""Who Could That Be at This Hour?"3 Willows4th of July99 DaysA Beautiful MindA Change in AltitudeA Corner Of The UniverseA Falling KnifeA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA People's History of ChristianityA Question of BloodA Slight Trick of the MindA Step Toward FallingA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December Abraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesADHD NationAfter DarkAgainst EmpathyAgainst Medical AdviceAll the Bright PlacesAll the Way HomeAll Unquiet ThingsAlphavilleAlways Forever MaybeAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAmerica AmericaAmong the DepartedAn EducationAn Object of BeautyAnatomy of a MisfitAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAsymmetryBad BoyBad RatsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeauty QueensBed of RosesBefore I DieBefore I FallBefore the FrostBig BrotherBiteBlack Elk SpeaksBlameBleed for MeBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBody SurfingBog ChildBoneMan's DaughtersBoomsdayBorder CrossingBorn Standing UpBoys Are DogsBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Brava, ValentineBreak Through PainBreathingBridge of SighsBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBrutalBy BloodC StreetCalm Beneath the WavesCanadaCellCemetery DanceChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeCheeverCinnamon KissCleopatraClose Your EyesCompulsionCross CountryCyborgasmDakotaDancing at the Shame PromDarkest FearDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDead EvenDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Death Without TenureDeceptionDefending JacobDefine NormalDeliriumDevil in the DetailsDiscovering Pig MagicDisturbing GroundDivergentDivine JusticeDivisaderoDoing ItDon't Wake UpDown the Rabbit HoleDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDriftlessEven Dogs in the WildEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEye ContactFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFalling ManFamily and Other CatastrophesFamily FirstFans of the Impossible LifeFear of the DarkFellsideField of BloodFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFiregirlFlat Lake in WinterForest of the PygmiesFortunate SonFraudFreak the MightyFree RefillsFull Steam Ahead!Furiously HappyGenerosityGenomeGetting a Good Night's SleepGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGiftedGirl in TranslationGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoing BovineGood and GoneGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGraysonHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHarmlessHe's Just Not That Into YouHealthy AgingHeartbeatHeftHigh HeatHolidays on IceHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow Full Is Your Bucket?How Successful People ThinkHow to Build a HouseHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow to Set a Fire and WhyHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurt Go HappyHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI Am I Am I AmI Am Not Joey PigzaI Can See YouI Drink for a ReasonI Feel Bad About My NeckI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIdiot AmericaIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf You StayImagine Me GoneIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestInheritanceInnocentInside the O'BriensInvincibleInvisibleIt Takes OneJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJust LifeKiss of Broken GlassKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knife CreekLeaping BeautyLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife InterruptedLife of PiLife StrategiesLisey's StoryLitLittle Black LiesLittle ScarletLive For Your Listening PleasureLiving Your DreamLong Shadow of Small GhostsLooking for BobowiczLosers BracketLost in the ForestLove Is a Mix TapeLove Times ThreeLove, AubreyLowboyMadappleMade for LoveMade For YouMagical ThinkingMagnificenceMaliceMan in the WoodsMarlenaMeditation in a New York MinuteMeetings with a Remarkable ManMiddlesexMind MappingMindfulness for BeginnersMirrorMaskMischlingMissing PresumedMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMommies Who DrinkMunich AirportMy AbandonmentMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Name Is RedMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Sister's KeeperName All the AnimalsNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNever Let Me GoNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNinety DaysNone of the AboveNot a Crime to Be PoorNothingNurtureShockObjects of My AffectionOdd Child OutOh My GothOlive's OceanOn Chesil BeachOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOutliersPaint It BlackPanicParadise LodgeParanoiaPeace Is Every BreathPeople Who Eat DarknessPharmakonPictures of Hollis WoodsPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlease Stop Laughing at UsPositivityPresumed InnocentPretty Girl-13Prisoner of Night and FogPuddlejumpersPunkzillaRacing the DevilReady for AnythingRebuttalReleaseRequiemRescueRevolutionary RoadRoomRun for Your LifeSay You're SorryScatSchool of FearSearching for Sylvie LeeSeason to TasteSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSee How SmallSeeds of HopeSex and SpiritSide Effects May VarySilencedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSinlessSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSleeping BeautySleepyheadSnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSolitaireSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSourlandSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkStill in LoveStill MissingStory of a GirlStress ReliefSupreme CourtshipSurviving OpheliaSwimming to ElbaSworn to SilenceSycamoreSymptoms of Being HumanTeaseTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTen Minutes to RelaxTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe Abortionist's DaughterThe AccidentalThe Accidental BillionairesThe AdultsThe Almost MoonThe Anatomy of HopeThe ArrangementThe Art of ChoosingThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Average American MarriageThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Beat Goes OnThe Best AwfulThe Big LoveThe Boat RockerThe Book of JoeThe Book of LiesThe Book of the DeadThe Boy at the KeyholeThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Brass VerdictThe Breakout PrincipleThe Burden of ProofThe Case for GodThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe ChemistThe Chosen OneThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe Cuckoo's CallingThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Diviner's TaleThe DollmakerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dynamite RoomThe Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Erotic EdgeThe Essential KamasutraThe Family GeneThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Forgotten GirlsThe Fortunate OnesThe Geography of You and MeThe Gift of an Ordinary DayThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Guy Not TakenThe Heart of YogaThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kings of LondonThe Language God TalksThe Language of SecretsThe Language Of YogaThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Male BrainThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Memory Book The Mermaids SingingThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Myth of LazinessThe NarrowsThe Necessary Death of Lewis WinterThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe NixThe NursesThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe Penultimate PerilThe Perfect GirlThe PostcardThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe PyramidThe Qi Healing KitThe Quiet RoomThe ReaderThe Republican BrainThe Rule of FourThe Rules of SurvivalThe Savage CityThe ScarecrowThe Second GirlThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe ShallowsThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Silent BoyThe SisterThe Sound of Broken GlassThe SpindlersThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Summer ChildrenThe Survivors ClubThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Tenth JusticeThe Thing About JellyfishThe Third AngelThe TouristThe Treasure Map of BoysThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe VegetarianThe View from SaturdayThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weight of the NationThe Whiz Mob and the Grenadine KidThe Whole TruthThe WilloughbysThe Witch ElmThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves of AndoverThe Words We Live ByThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsThe Yin Yoga KitThings You Didnt SeeThirteen Reasons WhyThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Full HouseThis Is HowThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTransformation TriburbiaTrue BelieverTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTwinmakerTwistedTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnder WildwoodUniversal HarvesterUnlessUnthinkingUp in the AirVacuum in the DarkVery ValentineVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWalkingWarWatching the DarkWays to Die in GlasgowWe Are OkayWhat the Dog SawWhen My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWherever You Go, There You AreWhite HotWild AwakeWild ChildWildwoodWill They Ever Trust Us Again?Wolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYoga SanctuaryYou Know Me WellYou Look Different in Real LifeYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me
"Divisadero flows like a symphony of distinct movements." Chicago Sun-Times
"Ondaatje is a master at constructing breathtaking passages." Boston Globe
"Divisadero is art; it is stuffed with unbearable love, and it is magnificent." Miami Herald
"[A] beautifully crafted tale of separated sisters and torn-apart lovers." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
These four responses are typical of the critical responses to reading the latest Ondaajte novel. Similar responses come from listening to the Hope Davis reading of the novel on the Random House Audio version reviewed here. It too "is magnificent."
Michael Ondaatje is the author of four previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil's Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, he now lives in Toronto.
"The novel as a disguised lyric, a borrowed label for the experimentations of poetic spirits to express their feeling of self and world…" wrote Herman Hesse in 1921, an observation that certainly applies to Divisadero, Michael Ondaatje's fifth novel. In this novel he tells the story of a pair of teenage sisters and their brother-like farmhand whom their father has unofficially adopted. At first we are on a farm in northern California in the 1970s and the book ends with the extended family divided on two separate continents years later. There is a powerful act of love and violence early in the book which changes the story of their lives forever. In telling this complicated story Ondaatje employs his poetic and suggestive style to present a compelling set of characters with crystal clear imagery and a sophisticated tapestry of interwoven time indicators. At times indeed the reader/listener (like Billy Pilgrim) feels unstuck in time.
One result: days after reading or listening to the novel, these characters, Anna, Coop, and Claire will still be with you, their emotions still yours, their losses a reminder that loss is the universal metaphor.
"We have art," Nietzsche says, "so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth." (267) Divisadero is an example of what Nietzsche may have had in mind: a work of art so powerful and so poignant that we are transported out of time and space and into a world of fiction so real as to make us reflect on our own life and relationships. I first met Michael Ondaatje some thirty-five years ago (the fact that I am reviewing his latest novel seems to fit one of the themes of that novel – a connectedness between persons and events that seems more than coincidence) when he came to Malaspina College as part of a Canada Council sponsored tour for poets to read their work at small venues away from the big city. He was a handsome young man with a passion for his poetry, and my teenage daughter immediately "fell in love" with him (or his poetry). He stayed with us that night as part of the economy of poetry as a performing art. That is the only time I talked with him.
Most of us Canadians knew Michael Ondaatje first as a poet, and then as a novelist after the stunning success of his 1992 Booker Prize winner The English Patient. In a recent interview [http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=620100] he talked about the move from poetry to fiction:
"One of the things about poetry is that you are more suggestive, I think," he said. "You don't say 100 percent. You say 70 percent or something like that, so that the reader also participates in the story. Now, in the poem, the minute you say too much, it dies. So reader and writer are in a simultaneous location making the final poem.
"I want to bring that into fiction. When I turned from poetry to fiction I thought, `Well, I wonder if you can do that, too.'
"So you are being more suggestive, you are being very tight with words, very precise with words as opposed to poetic, which sometimes people think is too romantic. ... And I think the forms of poetry, as the forms of modern art, are more radical perhaps than some of the forms of the novel.
"The strict narrative control of an average novel—which is fine, it is good for thrillers sometimes, but not always to go into new areas and territories. It's like saying that there can only be one narrator in a book. But if we live in a world ... where there's more than one opinion. ..."
The critic Aritha van Herk, Globe and Mail (Toronto), writes, "Divisadero shines with an indisputable and incomparable power . . . [It] is so rich that every description or summary beggars its accomplishment . . . Savouring Ondaatje's subtle expertise in word cuisine is an indelible pleasure, pleasure that, incredibly, deepens with each book penned by this genius (there is no other word for a writer of such grace and depth). His unique gift is that his stories perform an inexorable seduction, impossible to resist . . . His words unfold with the dazzling variety of a courtesan, infinite, unpredictable, always intriguing . . . For all that Divisadero is elegant and erudite, it is also a breathtaking tango of violence, 'raw truth' . . . Although the attentive reader will delight in every sentence, will revel in the vividly original language and narrative approach, Divisadero refuses the aggrandizement of pyrotechnics. By virtue of that reserve, the novel accomplishes an intimacy that is extraordinary, nakedly beautiful."
As the publisher's notes say, "Divisadero takes us from the city of San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada's casinos and eventually to the landscape of south-central France. It is here, outside a small rural village, that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writer from an earlier time — Lucien Segura. His compelling story, which has its beginnings at the turn of the century, circles around "the raw truth" of Anna's own life, the one she's left behind but can never truly leave. And as the narrative moves back and forth in time and place, we discover each of the characters managing to find some foothold in a present rough hewn from the past."
The structure of the novel gives the impression of two distinct stories woven together by the character common to both parts, Anna. In the first half of the book we are with Anna as she grows up in her family on the farm in northern California until the family scatters as a result of a violent clash. In the second half the adult Anna is exploring the work of writer Lucien Segura in France. The two halves are connected by Anna's thoughts and by theme and image. Ondaatje's prose is tight, suggestive, rich and powerful. The writing reminds us throughout that "The past is always carried into the present by small things" (77) and that "we live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell." (136)
As Thomas King said in the Massey Lectures in 2003, "The truth about stories is – that's all we are." In reading a text, especially a finely crafted one like Divisadero, one must engage every bit of creativity, of sensitivity, of intellect and feeling that one possesses. The story is in the text, but its full experience is in the mind of the reader. The story provides form and directs responses, and the reader completes the communicative act. Think of the text as a musical score and yourself as a performing musician. The notes are there - are in the score - and you must be able to perform them on your musical instrument. You need to bring technical skill, sensitivity to nuance, and knowledge of the language of poetry to the task; or as Janet Maslin, in her review in The New York Times puts it, "The more you give Divisadero, the more it gives in return…"
If you have read Divisadero you should also try this audio book, for Hope Davis, film and television actor, provides an excellent interpretation of the text. Her delivery is intelligent and moving, her French perfect for the several passage where it is required. I found her reading easy to listen to, powerful and sensitive, and based on a clear respect for the text. She knits the three parts of the story together seamlessly and delivers an interpretation which adds to the lovely tapestry of the Ondaatje prose. She provides subtle and yet necessary vocal cues to keep the listener constantly aware of place and time.
© 2007 Bob Lane
Bob Lane is a retired professor of English and Philosophy who is currently a Research Associate in Philosophy at Malaspina University-College in British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of a book of short stories, Redneck.