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3.3 27
by Michael Ondaatje

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From the celebrated author of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost comes a remarkable, intimate novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time. In the 1970s in Northern California a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs


From the celebrated author of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost comes a remarkable, intimate novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time. In the 1970s in Northern California a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is shattered by an incident of violence that sets fire to the rest of their lives. Divisadero takes us from San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada's casinos and eventually to the landscape of southern France. As the narrative moves back and forth through time and place, we find each of the characters trying to find some foothold in a present shadowed by the past.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ravishing and intricate. . . . Unforgettable." —Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books“My life always stops for a new book by Michael Ondaatje. . . . [Divisadero is] a mosaic of profound dignity, with an elegiac quietude that only the greatest of writers can achieve. . . . Ondaatje's finest novel to date.” —Jhumpa Lahiri"The more you give Divisadero, the more it gives in return . . . . [Ondaatje] is a writer of intense acuity." —The New York Times"Brilliant. . . . Divisadero plays whimsically with chronology and memory, with fantasy and historical fact." —San Francisco Chronicle
Jeff Turrentine
What an unusual, and unusually rich, experience it is to read Divisadero, the new novel by Michael Ondaatje -- like going for a walk in a familiar neck of the woods, getting lost and then discovering an entirely new neck of woods filled with unknown wonders. The title provides only the subtlest of clues: It's the name of the San Francisco street on which one character, Anna, lives. Within the story, it's mere trivia; none of the novel's action takes place there, and Anna herself only mentions her street in passing. But Ondaatje apparently loves what that word connotes -- a line between two realms, separating them but also hinging them. And how appropriate, for Divisadero is ultimately a story about two worlds divided by decades and oceans, but connected by clarion, undiminishable echoes.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
… [Ondaatje] is a writer of intense acuity. His eminence is well earned. This book is initially difficult, but the more you give Divisadero, the more it gives in return.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Davis (American Splendor) reads Ondaatje's puzzle of a novel delicately, as if hesitant to jostle a single piece out of place. Often playing emotionally frazzled characters on screen, Davis is far more understated here in offering up Ondaatje's hybrid narrative-one that goes from 1970s San Francisco to early 20th-century France, linking past and present with loose tendrils of memory and history. She does a fine job with the tricky French names and nomenclature, and puts her natural gifts as an actor to good use with her subtle, understated, well-oiled reading. Davis still sounds as no-nonsense as ever, but her skilled reading offers a good deal more patience and tenderness than her often-testy characters do. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 16). (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Along with a mysterious guy named Coop, Anna and Claire help their father on his Northern California ranch, circa 1970, until a terrible incident sends Anna on the run. Ondaatje's first novel in six years; with an 11-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Poetic intensity trumps structural irregularity and storytelling opacity in the celebrated Ontario author's intense fifth novel (Anil's Ghost, 2000, etc.). Its several stories unfold within two distinct clusters of narratives. The first begins in California in the 1970s, when Anna and her half-sister Claire (a "foundling") are separated after their father discovers teenaged Anna in the embrace of their hired hand Coop (another orphan). He beats the younger man nearly to death and is himself attacked by his half-crazed daughter. Thereafter, the story is distributed among Coop's education as a poker player and misadventures among his criminal associates; Claire's attempt to rebuild her life as a public defender's legal researcher (which leads her to a brief chance reunion with Coop); and Anna's pursuit of an academic career as a specialist in French literature, which takes her to the French countryside and the home of late author Lucien Segura-whose life, as reconstructed from her research, is most cunningly connected, incident by incident, image by image, to the story of Anna's destroyed family. Echoes of Ondaatje's Booker Prize winner The English Patient (1992) resound throughout Lucien's story, in which a withdrawn, dreamy boy is shaken into life when a gypsy pair-volatile Roman and his teenaged bride Marie-Neige-are given land to farm in exchange for work performed for Lucien's stoical single mother Odile. The illiterate Marie-Neige becomes Lucien's soul mate, eventual intellectual companion and the love of his life-until war takes him away from their quiet village, returning him home only when it is too late to reclaim the unlived life that will endure only in the books he writes.Intricate, lyrical, profoundly moving, this brilliantly imagined meditation on love, loss and memory unforgettably dramatizes the rueful realization that "[t]here is the hidden presence of others in us . . . [and] We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross."Not to be missed. First printing of 200,000

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Vintage International Series
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Product dimensions:
5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Divisadero

By our grandfather’s cabin, on the high ridge, opposite a slope of buckeye trees, Claire sits on her horse, wrapped in a thick blanket. She has camped all night and lit a fire in the hearth of that small structure our ancestor built more than a generation ago, and which he lived in like a hermit or some creature, when he first came to this country. He was a self-sufficient bachelor who eventually owned all the land he looked down onto. He married lackadaisically when he was forty, had one son, and left him this farm along the Petaluma road.

Claire moves slowly on the ridge above the two valleys full of morning mist. The coast is to her left. On her right is the journey to Sacramento and the delta towns such as Rio Vista with its populations left over from the Gold Rush.

She persuades the horse down through the whiteness alongside crowded trees. She has been smelling smoke for the last twenty minutes, and, on the outskirts of Glen Ellen, she sees the town bar on fire —the local arsonist has struck early, when certain it would be empty. She watches from a distance without dismounting. The horse, Territorial, seldom allows a remount; in this he can be fooled only once a day. The two of them, rider and animal, don’t fully trust each other, although the horse is my sister Claire’s closest ally. She will use every trick not in the book to stop his rearing and bucking. She carries plastic bags of water with her and leans forward and smashes them onto his neck so the animal believes it is his own blood and will calm for a minute. When Claire is on a horse she loses her limp and is in charge of the universe, a centaur. Someday she will meet and marry a centaur.

The fire takes an hour to burn down. The Glen Ellen Bar has always been the location of fights, and even now she can see scuffles starting up on the streets, perhaps to honour the landmark. She sidles the animal against the slippery red wood of a madrone bush and eats its berries, then rides down into the town, past the fire. Close by, as she passes, she can hear the last beams collapsing like a roll of thunder, and she steers the horse away from the sound.

On the way home she passes vineyards with their prehistoric-looking heat blowers that keep air moving so the vines don’t freeze. Ten years earlier, in her youth, smudge pots burned all night to keep the air warm.

Most mornings we used to come into the dark kitchen and silently cut thick slices of cheese for ourselves. My father drinks a cup of red wine. Then we walk to the barn. Coop is already there, raking the soiled straw, and soon we are milking the cows, our heads resting against their flanks. A father, his two eleven-year-old daughters, and Coop the hired hand, a few years older than us. No one has talked yet, there’s just been the noise of pails or gates swinging open.

Coop in those days spoke sparingly, in a low-pitched monologue to himself, as if language was uncertain. Essentially he was clarifying what he saw—the light in the barn, where to climb the approaching fence, which chicken to cordon off, capture, and tuck under his arm. Claire and I listened whenever we could. Coop was an open soul in those days. We realized his taciturn manner was not a wish for separateness but a tentativeness about words. He was adept in the physical world where he protected us. But in the world of language he was our student.

At that time, as sisters, we were mostly on our own. Our father had brought us up single-handed and was too busy to be conscious of intricacies. He was satisfied when we worked at our chores and easily belligerent when it became difficult to find us. Since the death of our mother it was Coop who listened to us complain and worry, and he allowed us the stage when he thought we wished for it. Our father gazed right through Coop. He was training him as a farmer and nothing else. What Coop read, however, were books about gold camps and gold mines in the California northeast, about those who had risked everything at a river bend on a left turn and so discovered a fortune. By the second half of the twentieth century he was, of course, a hundred years too late, but he knew there were still outcrops of gold, in rivers, under the bunch grass, or in the pine sierras.


Now and then our father embraced us as any father would. This happened only if you were able to catch him in that no-man’s-land between tiredness and sleep, when he seemed wayward to himself. I joined him on the old covered sofa, and I would lie like a slim dog in his arms, imitating his state of weariness—too much sun perhaps, or too hard a day’s work.

Claire would also be there sometimes, if she did not want to be left out, or if there was a storm. But I simply wished to have my face against his checkered shirt and pretend to be asleep. As if inhaling the flesh of an adult was a sin and also a glory, a right in any case. To do such a thing during daylight would have been unthinkable, he’d have pushed us aside. He was not a modern parent, he had been raised with a few male rules, and he no longer had a wife to qualify or compromise his beliefs. So you had to catch him in that twilight state, when he had ceded control on the tartan sofa, his girls enclosed, one in each of his arms. I would watch the flicker under his eyelid, the tremble within that covering skin that signalled his tiredness, as if he were being tugged in mid-river by a rope to some other place. And then I too would sleep, descending into the layer that was closest to him. A father who allows you that should protect you all of your days, I think.

Meet the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of four previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and eleven books of poetry. His novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize. Born in Sri Lanka, he moved to Canada in 1962 and now lives in Toronto.

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Divisadero 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
verysmallgiant More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, heartbreaking and haunted. The story of the dynamic of a cobbled family and the errors that tear it asunder. Speaks of the growth and stunt of living through tragedy. One of the best books I've read in years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like much of Ondaatje's work, there will be a lot of people who don't get / don't appreciate his work, as he has a very non-linear story telling style. For those with the patience and an appreciation of nuance though, he is simply one of the very finest writers alive. This book, in particular, will challenge readers, as there is much here that is told in almost the way one relates a dream, but the language, the characterizations, and the ability to conjure places, smells, feelings is superb.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story moves across time periods and continents. This is one of those books that I went back and enjoyed rereading immediately; the development of the characters, the places, and the plot lines connecting them all were appreciated even more, with no loss in knowing the whole plot.
Connections between subplots and patterns repeated were subtle and a treasure to find. Very stimulating. The author is extremely talented, as shown by his previous works, and as this is the first one I have read, it prompts me to read more of his novels.
Also, it was special in that parts of it were set in areas in which I have either lived or traveled to: Petaluma, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Santa Maria and the southern San Joaquin Valley, so those sections were even more vivid.

Another story that moves across many time periods and continents, with rich character development, and a very different writing style is The History of Love, and I recommend it highly.
IrretrievablyBroken More than 1 year ago
Some years ago, after Michael Ondaatje had written The English Patient, I finagled an invitation to a private reading held by the Canadian Consulate for an exclusive group of business executives. Upon arrival my husband and I were quickly unmasked as fakes, but, enduring the slings and arrows of whispered remarks and sidelong glances, we held our ground and remained for the reading. When Ondaatje appeared I found him a simple man in dress, humble in manner, and a diffident reader of his works. I recall thinking that if only I wrote prose like his I would strut, not fret, my hour upon the stage. After reading this introduction, you'll probably not be very surprised by my confession that when it comes to Michael Ondaatje's works I'm like a besotted teenager faced with the object of her desire. I find his words magical; his creations dreamlike. Which brings me to Divisadero, Ondaatje's most recent novel, a much debated and often maligned work. In Divisadero Ondaatje explores the bonds of family: the family given us through blood-relation and the family we choose. Anna, is the only daughter of a Northern California widowed farmer who adopts another girl, Claire, when Anna's and Claire's mothers both die in childbirth. Born just hours apart, Claire becomes Anna's "twin." A boy, Coop, the orphaned son of a neighboring farm couple, is already part of the family. Divisadero is the story of these three. We meet them briefly as teenagers, see the family torn apart, then each of them continue their separate lives. Claire and Coop meet again, accidentally, but providentially. Coop's story seems to strike some reviewers as the least satisfactory, charging the writer of having created and then abandoned this character. Coop represents the random violence all of us often face in life through war, fate, or of our own making. Coop's parents were murdered when he was just a boy, he is taken into this neighboring family, then expelled, cruelly and violently. Although he is a temperate man, violence follows him like his own shadow until Claire gently guides him home. This, to me, is a very poignant scene and satisfactory conclusion to Coop's story. But Anna is the focus and storyteller of "Divisadero." Although she leaves home and country, her siblings and father are never far from her heart and mind. She finds her soul mate in the past life of Lucien Segura, a poet whose life story she explores as she settles into his house in the small village in Southern France and chooses his "adopted" son as lover and companion. This is where Ondaatje's writing turns truly magical. As Anna's and Segura's stories intertwine, the scenes become stunningly sensual, gorgeously trancelike. When I finished Divisadero, I felt such a loss, I had to re-read this book at once. I wanted again to take part in the lives of the ill-fated Marie-Neige and her husband, Roman, an incarnation of the enigmatic Coop, all raw rage, which he is unable to verbalize. I wanted again to eat a simple meal of herbs and onions grown in the garden of a small farm house in Southern France on a warm summer's day. And I wanted again to dance with no purpose with a cat. So find yourself a quiet corner in a garden or a sun-filled room and let one of our generation's greatest writers awaken your senses, touch your heart, and seduce you with this magic dance called Divisadero.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story woven by a true master.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written lyrical novel that follows the lives of two women raised by the same father. The cast of characters is very different than his previous novels yet as fully developed as those in his earlier writings. A book to be read and savored. This would be a marvelous book for a book club discussion.
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kyuen1 More than 1 year ago
I've always been a sucker for Michael Ondaatje's writing style. One critic said his writing is akin to drops of rain in a bowl of clear water, and this aptly describes the beauty and clarity found in all his works. However, I've never had an easy time grasping the story firmly. For example, while I dearly love The English Patient, its utterly convoluted (though artistic, I suppose) chronology made me put it off constantly despite my appreciation for his writing. ---Divisadero is different and in my opinion, better than the latter in several aspects. It is clean and simple, and yet its poetic language is even more moving and beautiful than what I'd encountered in his other works. There is a depth and emotion infused in this story that is difficult to describe, but I could feel it profoundly all the same. Perhaps it is because he has painted the lives of very ordinary people in a way that is lyrical but also concise. It is easily relatable but also intriguing; Ondaatje is among the few authors who can plumb his characters' souls so deeply. This was definitely one of those books where, upon completing it, my first thought was "Now THAT is a good book." I think that Divisadero presents Ondaatje in his prime, and I eagerly look forward to the next of his works.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes, the prose is good...but to drop 2 of the supposed main characters halfway throught the book was very stange and not in a good way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perhaps a bit more time spent giving life to his characters would have helped to make this dreary, plodding, story readable. In the end he did not think enough of his characters to finish them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author has clearly dropped the ball on this one since he decided not to finalize the tale about two of the main characters. I felt as though several chapters were omitted from the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The English Patient was boring. This is agony. I'm surprised credible reviews from the New York Times and Boston Globe praised this.