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Divisadero Hardcover – May 29, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the celebrated author of The English Patient, comes another breathtaking, unforgettable story, this time about a family torn apart by an act of violence. Divisadero is a rich and rewarding read, one that Jhumpa Lahiri, in her guest review for Amazon.com (see below), calls "Ondaatje's finest novel to date." --Daphne Durham

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

Ondaatje's oddly structured but emotionally riveting fifth novel opens in the Northern California of the 1970s. Anna, who is 16 and whose mother died in childbirth, has formed a serene makeshift family with her same-age adopted sister, Claire, and a taciturn farmhand, Coop, 20. But when the girls' father, otherwise a ghostly presence, finds Anna having sex with Coop and beats him brutally, Coop leaves the farm, drawing on a cardsharp's skills to make an itinerant living as a poker player. A chance meeting years later reunites him with Claire. Runaway teen Anna, scarred by her father's savage reaction, resurfaces as an adult in a rural French village, researching the life of a Gallic author, Jean Segura, who lived and died in the house where she has settled. The novel here bifurcates, veering almost a century into the past to recount Segura's life before WWI, leaving the stories of Coop, Claire and Anna enigmatically unresolved. The dreamlike Segura novella, juxtaposed with the longer opening section, will challenge readers to uncover subtle but explosive links between past and present. Ondaatje's first fiction in six years lacks the gut punch of Anil's Ghost and the harrowing meditation on brutality that marked The English Patient, but delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy. (June)
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266354
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,055,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to write a review for a novel that rises above superlatives. Ondaatje is one of the world's greatest living writers, and Divisadero is his finest novel. At times it rises to the level of true greatness, and it is the most challenging novel I have ever read. It is also my new favorite.

Be forewarned: this is not a light read. The prose is smooth and lyrical and unmistakably Ondaatje. The novel focuses on memory, the past, and violence as his prior works have but Divisadero takes the concept one step further: it is separated into three distinct sections, overlapping enough only to give the reader a reason to continue reading. It reads more like a collection of three novellas than it does a novel. It also travels in reverse chronological order. I considered the opening section to be the main story, with the following stories as the reflections spoken of in the novel's last line.

This is not a novel that concerns itself heavily with plot. It is an exploration of its themes first and foremost. I don't want to speak for the author, but it seems to me it was not written to be a page turner. If that is what you're expecting I think you'll probably be disappointed. Any hope of that will be gone with the abrupt end to the opening section. But don't give up because of it. There are many novels with compelling stories: there are few that treat its reader with as much respect as Divisadero. Ondaatje tells you a story, but not all of it. He leaves the unwritten to the reader to piece together. What does it mean that Coop/Anna and Segura both have blue tables they treasure? What does it mean that Coop becomes a card player and Segura names Ramon's sidekick `One-eyed Jaques'?
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Format: Hardcover
There's much to enjoy in this new Ondaatje novel--all his usual gifts are on display--but I was disappointed. First, it seems too many serious writers these days are obsessed with writing itself as a metaphor for life and all its existential complexity. Ondaatje tries to include the "world" in his tortured literary effort--e.g., clunky references to the two Gulf Wars--but in the end the novel and its concerns feel terribly self-involved and self-referential, like he's finally given into a private world just as his characters Lucien Segura, Rafael, and Anna have done. Art as an escape from truth. Nietzsche deserves a better interpretation! Second, I found it needlessly confusing. I know we're not supposed to admit this -- we're supposed to pretend that it all makes sense--but does it? Early on Anna recounts a shared memory in the barn with her sister Claire. She says that "even now" they remember it differently. When is even now? She runs away from home and never goes back as far as we know, so when do she and Anna get together and compare memories? Also, how can her telling of Lucien's life story contain resonances with Coop's life after she left, a life of which she knows nothing? Are we to believe in magic here, or are we to believe that the family at some point reunites?

Don't get me wrong, the book is a pleasurable serious read. I read it in one sitting (one long plane ride). But it became increasingly disappointing as it went on. He refuses to tell a straight story--I get it--but the (perhaps) unintended effect of his narrative stubbornness is that as the book went on I wanted basically one thing: to know what happened to Coop, whom he abandons at mid-book.
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Format: Hardcover
Divisadero, one of Michael Ondaatje's characters helpfully informs us, is a street in San Francisco, a former dividing line between the city and the open area of the Presidio. Then again, the character tells us, perhaps the name comes from the Spanish divisar, meaing to "gaze at something from a distance," from a vantage point where one can see far. While the actual street and the city of San Francisco have little significance to the story, both of these inferred meanings come into play as Ondaatje unwinds two parallel tales, nearly a century apart, of natural and acquired families, of passions and betrayals and deaths, and of orphaned children and equally abandoned parents.

DIVISADERO, the book, offers two intertwined stories, connected through the peculiar literary researches of one of the modern characters named Anna. Anna specializes in writing biographies of history's secondary characters, the unkown individuals who orbit the lives of the famous. She has chosen for her latest subject an obscure, one-eyed, turn-of-the-century French poet named Lucien Segura. Anna's explorations lead her to occupy the last house where Segura lived. While there, she meets and interviews Segura's semi-adopted son Rafael, ultimately engaging him in a sexual affair.

In a dreamlike recounting of Segura's life that appears meant to be viewed as Anna's biographical voice, we later learn that Lucien was more successful as the anonymous author of a series of light escapist fictions based on his romantic imaginings of a lost love than he was as a poet.
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