Guest Reviewer: Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as the PEN/Hemingway Award for her mesmerizing debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Her poignant and powerful debut novel, The Namesake was adapted by screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, and released in theaters in 2007.
My life always stops for a new book by Michael Ondaatje. I began Divisadero as soon as it came into my possession and over the course of a few evenings was captivated by Ondaatje's finest novel to date. The story is simple, almost mythical, stemming from a family on a California farm that is ruptured just as it is about to begin. Two daughters, Anna and Claire, are raised not just as siblings but with the intense bond of twins, interchangeable, inseparable. Coop, a boy from a neighboring farm, is folded into the girls' lives as a hired hand and quasi-brother. Anna, Claire, and Coop form a triangle that is intimate and interdependent, a triangle that brutally explodes less than thirty pages into the book. We are left with a handful of glass, both narratively and thematically. But Divisadero is a deeply ordered, full-bodied work, and the fragmented characters, severed from their shared past, persevere in relation to one another, illuminating both what it means to belong to a family and what it means to be alone in the world. The notion of twins, of one becoming two, pervades the novel, and so the farm in California is mirrored by a farm in France, the setting for another plot line in the second half of the book and giving us, in a sense, two novels in one. But the stories are not only connected but calibrated by Ondaatje to reveal a haunting pattern of parallels, echoes, and reflections across time and place. Like Nabokov, another master of twinning, Ondaatje's method is deliberate but discreet, and it was only in rereading this beautiful book--which I wanted to do as soon as I finished it--that the intricate play of doubles was revealed. Every sign of the author's genius is here: the searing imagery, the incandescent writing, the calm probing of life's most turbulent and devastating experiences. No one writes as affectingly about passion, about time and memory, about violence--subjects that have shaped Ondaatje's previous novels. But there is a greater muscularity to Divisadero, an intensity born from its restraint. Episodes are boiled down to their essential elements, distilled but dramatic, resulting in a mosaic of profound dignity, with an elegiac quietude that only the greatest of writers can achieve. --Jhumpa Lahiri
From Publishers Weekly
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