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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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Top customer reviews
There is a lot to this book and it is worth reading, but it is not the sort of thing you read on the train going to work for a bit of light amusement.
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.
Apart from the artistry, the characters and stories woven by Ondaatje are fascinating. Anna uses her own life's experiences to understand the life and works of Lucien Seguro. Thus the first and second parts of the novel are unified to that extent.