- 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
- Average Customer Review: 113 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Divisadero Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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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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Ondaatje cannot describe what happens without also evoking how it feels. But he seldom attempts to describe a feeling directly. Rather, he creates something else to stand beside it, illuminating it by association, from the side rather than full on. A simple example is the consummation of the marriage between a French peasant, Roman, and his very young bride. He goes out in the moonlight to wash in the rain barrel outside the cottage door; after a while, she follows him and washes also. "After that she turned and put her arms out along the thick rim of the barrel where in the water was the moon and the ghost of her face. Roman moved against her, and in the next while, whatever surprise there was, whatever pain, there was also the frantic moon in front of her shifting and breaking into pieces in the water." In terms of narrative, Ondaatje could have set this scene anywhere, or omitted it entirely; but in terms of its place in the emotional balance of the whole novel, nothing else would have been so powerful or so evocative. Images of this kind, based on imagination rather than logic, are the essence of Ondaatje's poetic sensibility.
What of the story? The back-cover blurb is true as far as it goes: "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. . . . As the narrative moves back and forth through time and place, we find each of these characters trying to gain some foothold in a present shadowed by the past." After the violent beginning (whose nature I shall not reveal), the story moves forward several decades, though with frequent flashbacks. Coop, private and principled and extremely likeable, has unexpectedly become a professional gambler. Claire is a legal aide in San Francisco; her path will eventually re-cross his, bringing about a sort of partial ending two-thirds of the way through the book. Anna has become an author under a different name, writing biographies (or biographical novels; it is never quite clear) about minor French literary figures. Currently, she is working on a poet called Lucien Segura, and staying in the house where he spent his last years; these scenes in a remote part of Southern France make a wonderful contrast to those in California and Nevada.
But just where you might expect Ondaatje to pull everything together, he drops Coop, Claire, and Anna almost entirely, and starts a new set of stories about Segura's younger years, his loves and marriage, his experiences in the First World War, and the gypsy family he befriends when he buries himself in his last retreat. The whole texture of the book changes. These are engaging vignettes, created in short chapters, poetical and imagistic rather than factual, and this reader was soon swept up in them as though by a new novel. Indeed, I found that I couldn't stop reading once this section had started, partly out of sheer affection for the characters and delight in the writing, but partly to discover how Ondaatje would finally tie the two parts of the book together. Somewhere along the line, I began to realize that he wouldn't -- except in the sense that Segura's story was essentially being told (or perhaps invented) by Anna, in much the same way that the story of the two lovers in Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT is extended in the writing of the younger sister Briony. So far from this being a single sweeping canvas, as the cover suggests, it is constructed as a diptych: two separate panels (Ondaatje himself uses this image, in a different context) that enter into a dialogue with each other rather than connecting directly.
DIVISADERO? There is a street of that name in San Francisco, where Anna apparently lived for a while, but the novel does not take place there. The sense of the word as "division" or "break" is obviously appropriate for this family parted by passion and scattered through space. But Anna points out that the word may also derive from the Spanish "divisar," to look at something from a distance. By the end of the book, Anna is indeed looking on from a distance, exploring her life in art, as Nietzsche once said, so as not to be destroyed by the truth. This is essentially what any great novelist does, and with it Ondaatje invites the reader into the heart of his craft. Yet he gives us an even greater gift; by avoiding literal connections between his two stories, but instead inspiring our imagination and trusting us to find our own parallels, he gets us not only to read his words as a poet, but to think and feel as poets in ourselves.
Disaster throws a boy, Coop, into the hard life of a rural family, a father with twin girls, in 70s California, a world that feels more like early Cormac McCarthy than Frisco's Haight-Ashbury. A kind of romance, a tenderness of dispossession, causes a terrible incident and their lives are split asunder. One sister becomes a librarian and tunnels into the life of a 19th C French writer's fragmented life, Coop becomes a small time pro gambler run foul of a syndicate, the other twin (perhaps) a pawn in their game of entrapment. What comes haphazardly together again reveals the damaged destinies of family, of the twin hearts, of history, chance, and the ties that blind.