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Divisadero [Hardcover]

Michael Ondaatje
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Hardcover, 31 May 2007 --  
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Book Description

31 May 2007
From the celebrated author of The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion comes a remarkable new novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time.

In the 1970s in Northern California, near Gold Rush country, 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 riven by an incident of violence—of both hand and heart—that sets fire to the rest of their lives.

Divisadero takes us from the city of San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos and eventually to the landscape of south-central France. It is here, outside a small rural village, that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writer from an earlier time—Lucien Segura. His compelling story, which has its beginnings at the turn of the century, circles around “the raw truth” of Anna’s own life, the one she’s left behind but can never truly leave. And as the narrative moves back and forth in time and place, we discover each of the characters managing to find some foothold in a present rough hewn from the past.  

Breathtakingly evoked and with unforgettable characters, Divisadero is a multilayered novel about passion, loss, and the unshakable past, about the often discordant demands of family, love, and memory. It is Michael Ondaatje’s most intimate and beautiful novel to date.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; First United States Edition edition (31 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266354
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 15.3 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,265,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Hauntingly beautiful ... What an unusual, and unusually rich, experience it is to read Divisadero ... those who spend time within its pages will discover even more proof - not that they needed it - of Michael Ondaatje's peerlessness as a storyteller and poet' Washington Post Book World 'Magnificent ... From its first to last telling sentence, this aesthetic tale, poetic with human detail, is a rare and precious pleasure' USA Today 'Ondaatje is a master at constructing breathtaking passages dropped in as casually as stars in a night sky' Boston Globe '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' Jhumpa Lahiri --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

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
cinemas 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 --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divisadero 23 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved reading (and re reading) the English Patient and Anil's Ghost. I'd probably rate the English Patient as one of my favourite books. I was therefore a bit disheatened to hear some negative reviews of Divisadero on BBC Newsnight Review. Some of the comments described the writing style as "juvenile" and the storyline as a mess. The consensus of opinion was negative. On the contrary this novel was tremendous! I had a friend in school who once he listened to an album he really liked would not listen to it again for some time as he didn't want to diminish that first experience. I've just finished reading this book and I'm sorely tempted to re-read it now if it wasn't for my friend's peculiar advice. Ondaatje fans will not be disappointed in the slightest. This book was seven years in the making and this is reflected in the complex interweaving of numerous characters and their relationships....all held together by the 'blue table'. I think there is a lot to discover within this book, within every character, sublot and sentence. This is what attracted me to Ondaatje. I'd happily spend hours over one of his chapters. Divisadero has not disappointed in the slightest. It's evocative, deep, thought provoking and intimate. To hell with it I might just read it again now!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
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. You can't just create a character and a story line as compelling as this one and then throw it away as if it started to smell bad to you. Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything is collage 21 July 2008
Michael Ondaatje writes in his new novel, "[T]here is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross." At one level "Divisadero" is such a collage, spreading scenarios across more than one hundred years and several continents. Initially seemingly disconnected events and individual stories are nevertheless intertwined in some way. They converge around Anna, the anchor in the narrative who brings the different segments together. At another level, Ondaatje's exquisitely written novel is about recurring themes of identity, love, loss and pain, and the potentially healing power of passing time and remembrance. Completely absorbing, I found it deeply moving and enriching. A book to be read more than once to be fully appreciated in composition and content.

A certain mystique surrounds the title; its varied possible interpretations find their echo in the structure of the novel and the personal histories of the protagonists. According to Anna "divisadero" means "to divide" and also "to gaze at from afar". A pivotal experience at some point in each protagonist's life has broken its continuity, resulting in a major change or split in their life from then on. Some inner consolidation may be achieved as time allows for re-examination of the past and discovering of similarities in others. Ondaatje uses different voices and perspectives to bring to the reader more than one linear narrative. The novel's structure also reminded me of a musical composition: across the distinct 'movements' themes are nonetheless recurring, and innocuous motifs, such as the shards of glass, can take on symbolic character in their repetition; parallels in the protagonists' lives are slowly revealed and linkages established.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Divisadero will appeal most to those who are deeply interested in identity and perception. This is one of those rare novels that successful explores a philosophical issue, much as Dostoyevsky does with Crime and Punishment.

If, however, you are looking to a traditional novel about one person or a family, you'll find the dream-like shards of this book disturbing and difficult . . . rather than rewarding. You might want to read another novel instead.

Let me take you into Mr. Ondaatje's theme. Who are you? Most people would answer in terms of their name, their associations, their work, where they live, and their experiences. Michael Ondaatje demonstrates a different point of view; you are who you want to be. You can choose to die to who you were born and become someone else. The ease of doing that is increased if you go where no one knows you. But, your perceptions will be permanently framed by your life experiences in a way you cannot escape. Witness the excellent advice to first novelists: Write what you know. If you do that, you can change who you are (become a novelist) but you'll see the world through the lens of your experience even when you shift your focus to new ground.

The primary character in this book, Anna, lives this experience. She grows up in a twin-like existence with an adopted sister, Claire, and a near-brother, the neighbor boy Coop, who works as a hand for her family. The distance between them is broken when Anna and Coop begin to want more from one another. That idyll is broken by an event so terrible it will stay with you in nightmares. Nothing can remain the same.

But what will happen? The story develops from there to follow the disconnected lives of Anna, Claire, and Coop.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars this is a book that I will read again
I couldn'tj stop reading it the story is a fascinating web of interconnecting lives and settings.it is like a well choreographed dance
Published 7 months ago by sally
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Ondaatje novel
I didn't rate this book in the beginning - a very subtlely coloured book - but on rereading it (several times) I've come to love all the characters very much, and perhaps... Read more
Published 8 months ago by .
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting story
I enjoyed this book whilst reading it as I love his style of writing. However, I either missed something, or am too stupid as I was never able to connect the 2 books within it. Read more
Published 17 months ago by vivia
Some years ago, after Michael Ondaatje had written "The English Patient," I finagled an invitation to a private reading in Seattle that was held by the Canadian Consulate for an... Read more
Published on 1 May 2011 by Irma Fritz
1.0 out of 5 stars Divided we fail
This is one of the worst books I have read in many a long year. It is not a novel at all but a collection of four or five short stories thinly connected by spurious and... Read more
Published on 4 Nov 2008 by Michael Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars Under-rated genius
No-one weaves together disparate lives like Ondaatje. He is as assured exploring the world of disaffected America, as he is writing of French poets. Read more
Published on 16 July 2008 by Aphra B
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing
Having greatly enjoyed Anil's Ghost and The English Patient the prospect of settling down for the afternnoon with Ondaatje's latest offering was an exciting one. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2008 by Nightingale
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb...if slightly curious read...
A wonderful book from a masterly writer, however the structure of the book will frustrate those who prefer their novels a little more conventional. Read more
Published on 28 Oct 2007 by Sam Sinclair
1.0 out of 5 stars Divisdero
This ws the first book chosen by our newly formed book club. I read a lot and was excited to read something by the author of The English Patient. What a dissapointment! Read more
Published on 6 Oct 2007 by C. K. Sparks
5.0 out of 5 stars An Innovative Philosophical Novel about the Nature of Identity and...
Divisadero will appeal most to those who are deeply interested in identity and perception. This is one of those rare novels that successful explores a philosophical issue, much as... Read more
Published on 18 Sep 2007 by Donald Mitchell
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