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
… [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
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
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.
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
From the Publisher
“Genius (there is no other word for a writer of such grace and depth). Ondaatje’s unique gift is that his stories perform an inexorable seduction, impossible to resist. . . . Divisadero shines with an indisputable and incomparable power. . . . A brilliant sleight of hand.”
— Globe and Mail
“The bewitching, assured Divisadero is the perfect reminder of why Ondaatje deserves to be honoured with his global peers.”
“Gorgeous. . . . It’s Ondaatje’s singular achievement to explore the heavy costs and burdens of colliding human lives with a lightness of touch and clarity of vision that makes for dead-run compelling reading.”
— National Post
“Michael Ondaatje’s prose is breathtaking. . . . Divisadero is his most beautiful [novel]. . . . [A] luminous book by one of our most thoughtful and erudite writers.”
— Charlotte Gray, Ottawa Citizen
“Intricate, lyrical, profoundly moving, this brilliantly imagined mediation on love, loss and memory. . . .”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“At once powerful and beautiful . . .”
— Booklist (starred review)
“Michael Ondaatje is the Canadian William Faulkner, writing novels that are visually unforgettable, stylistically inimitable, utterly devoted to the rise and fall of the human heart . . . . Compelling and moving. . . .”
— Vancouver Sun
“It has the ensemble qualities of early Robert Altman films and the poetic intensity of Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre. . . . Masterly writing. . . .”
— Montreal Gazette
“The spare erotics and lucid passions of Divisadero engage readers first and last through Ondaatje’s supple and resonant gifts with language, syntax and style, in the service of stories and voices that resonate far beyond the page. . . . The lives and longings of [his characters] quietly but insistently enter your own, as if you’d known them for an era — and as if their stories should mean something to you. And you have, and they do.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“Emotionally riveting. . . . [Divisadero] delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Ondaatje’s writing is evocative, powerful and deeply intimate. The reader can’t help but care about all of the characters. . . . [who] come to accept the reality of their own lives, and the loss of the ones who meant the most.”
— Calgary Herald
Read an Excerpt
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.