Anil's Ghost

Anil's Ghost

Book - 2001 | 1st Vintage International ed
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It is the mid-1980s, and a civil war is raging on the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka. Each day, fresh corpses inundate emergency medical clinics-many of them so mutilated that they are unidentifiable and can only be classified as "disappearances." Anil Tissera, a 33-year-old forensic anthropologist born in Sri Lanka and educated abroad, returns to the island as part of a United Nations human rights campaign to prove that mass murders are taking place. In the hope of identifying the corpses, she takes the unusual step of hiring a local "face painter" named Ananda, who, with mud, soot, paint, and sheer instinct, reconstructs the ghostly visage of one suspiciously disinterred body. Anil then shows the image around the local villages, hoping that it will be recognized. This grisly mask becomes Anil's Ghost, and she raises it high to reveal to the world, and the government of Sri Lanka, that she knows what has been going on.
Publisher: New York : Vintage International, 2001, ©2000
Edition: 1st Vintage International ed
ISBN: 9780375724374
Call Number: FICTION ONDAATJE 2001
Characteristics: 311 pages ; 21 cm


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esgouliaras Dec 06, 2018

Sad, lovely story with a hint of romance!

RogerDeBlanck Jun 19, 2018

By no stretch would Michael Ondaatje’s novels fit into a specific genre category. His stories are marked by intricate plot connections, complexly drawn characters, and evocative prose. Anil’s Ghost, much like his other novels, fulfills these criteria to the finest degree, yet the story he tells is unique in that it reads with the pace and energy of a first-rate international crime thriller. The setting for this absorbing novel is Sri Lanka, Ondaatje’s place of birth, and the main plot centers around solving a murder. The main character is Anil Tissera, a forensic anthropologist who is returning home to Sri Lanka to work with government investigators as they try to solve a string of murders tied to the rebel forces who have divided Sri Lanka into a warring island. Ondaatje, however, does not attempt to use language or plot as a mere device to unraveling a crime. He produces a keen literary landscape, stunning in its detail and imagery. He includes cultural insights that lift the narrative to enchanting heights as Anil and a close group of government officials gather clues to piece together the extent of the systematic killings. Ondaatje assures himself a place among the giants of modern literature with a book as well-written and intricately told as Anil’s Ghost.

Feb 06, 2015

Like the reader, Pisinga, I also struggled with the structure of this book.

I wanted so much to like this three times award-winning novel. When I first struggled with the disjointed, stream of consciousness type writing, I thought I should just bite my lip and struggle on - maybe it would get better later.

Anil was the main character in the story and try as I might to feel some affection or empathy for her, I just couldn't. She seemed self-absorbed, a little manipulative/cruel, occasionally sexual (not a minus, but seemed out-of-place somehow), callous and cold. Maybe I am misunderstanding her. She seemed like a black sheep. I get that a certain amount of distance and dark humor helps in a profession like hers, but she was particularly "cool". Almost like a - well, almost like a "ghost".

Maybe that's where the author was going with this...

In any case, getting through the book was a chore. Lots of complicated third person narrative like this:

"Archaeology lives under the same rules as the Napoleonic Code. The point was not that he would ever be proved wrong in his theories, but that he could not prove he was right. Still, the patterns that emerged for Palipana had begun to coalesce. They linked hands. They allowed walking across water, they allowed a leap from treetop to treetop. The water filled a cut alphabet and linked this shore and that. And so the unprovable truth emerged."

Beautiful, in the way some poetry is beautiful, but 307 pages of this and it gets a little hard-going.

Perhaps on a second read-through, I would understand more of what was going on in this story, but I don't think I'm going to revisit this book in a hurry. I'd be interested to read other books by Ondaatje to see if they read any better - or if they have more relatable characters.

All in all, this book had a few moments of exquisite beauty/compelling tragedy which seemed to snuff themselves out quickly. Finding relatable moments or characters in this book was like trying to find only strawberry centres in a packet of Bridge Mixture: hardly an 'unpleasant' experience and I could appreciate the other pieces, but ultimately I was left feeling unsatisfied, as this book contained too little of the things I would usually like in a story.

Jan 29, 2012

I did not like the structure of the book: some fragments of fragments. Suddenly question arises: Who is that and what he does in the pages of the story?
I didn’t like Anil’s character.

Perhaps for someone is not a burden to say names of the characters, but it is difficult to pronounce them (if you try).

Those who are familiar with the history of Sri Lanka will nderstand much more than the first time introducers to it, like me.

Despite the fact that the author is trying to be neutral with respect to all parties in the conflict that is leading to the insane destruction of people, there is still somehow a feeling that his sympathy for the guerrillas and insurgents is more than to the government’s army. It is difficult to judge, not being more familiar with the situation in the country.

Oct 28, 2010

I read the book and parts of it I liked very much and other parts I disliked intensely. The prose—poetry is beautiful and deep, e.g. "the hum of the bee motoring within the garden" and other references to things and places. You can read passages more than once and be moved by the comparisons between the human world and the world of nature. But I found the characters aptly described by the title "Anil's Ghost" is just that. Ghostly characters that wisp and float within the book's chapters, shadows flickering on the wall. When I read a book I want to be savaged by the character(s), I want to be drawn into their essence, to know and feel cry and laugh by their conversations, and their experiences of love and pain. I want the plot to drag me into the story and entertain me in their world. I want the story or the characters lives not to end, and stop reading only until I've finished reading it. I had to really push myself to finish this novel.

Jun 22, 2010

A challenging book but a very good read.

Nov 05, 2007

Probably the best work of poetic fiction ever written by probably the world's greatest living author.


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