by Michael Ondaatje
Category: Fiction / General
307 pages; ISBN: ISBN-0-330-48077-4
Rating: 6/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Vanessa Elliott
This latest offering from the author of The English Patient sees us transported to Sri Lanka of the 1980s.
With the country torn apart by civil war, Anil returns to the country of her birth to investigate political murders and human rights abuses for the UN. Having lived in Europe and America since her teens, she undergoes mental anguish as she questions her loyalties and identity. She knows her investigastion will make her a target for those wanting to cover up such abuses. But is she doing the right thing trying to dig up past horrors when the murders and suffering are continuing?
Although fiction, the book reveals much about the horrors civil war can bring to a country. Every character we are introduced to is scarred by the fighting - sometimes because their own friends and family have been murdered, others because they see the human cost of the war on a daily basis.
But despite, or maybe because of, the powerful narrative and emphatic descriptions, the novel lacked momentum. Each time I read a section I enjoyed the text but when I switched off the light or got up to make a cup of tea I felt no compulsion to return to reading it as soon as possible. I actually felt I could take or leave it, even when I neared the end. Anil's investigation was drawing to a close, and we were about to find out whether the Sri Lankan government would cover up the results, or try to silence her and those she had involved in the study.
There was a conclusion but many threads were left dangling, stories unfinished and questions unanswered. Just like the Sri Lankan civil war perhaps? Things have changed but there is still no end in sight and certainly no conclusive answers.