Sunday, June 8, 2008

Distance, Division and a Street in San Francisco

Michael Ondaatje the award winning author of “The English Patient” and “Anil’s Ghost” has written a new best seller, “Divisadero”. It is a story similiar to “The English Patient” in that it is more than one story within the novel. And, on first impression the reader questions how the stories are related.

“Divisadero” begins in the 1970’s in the northern California town of Petaluma. Two mothers die in childbirth, and the father of one of the infant girls, Anna, takes home the other infant, Claire. A third child, a boy named Coop, who had lost his family in a tragedy, had been taken in by the father and the deceased mother to help on the farm. So formed this makeshift family until an act of unspeakable violence divides and separates them forever.

Anna and Coop each run to escape the violence. Coop to a dangerous life in the casinos of Nevada and Tahoe. Anna, eventually, to a life as a literary scholar that leads her to the south of France. Clair, the one left behind, becomes a legal assistant in San Francisco, who lives on Divisadero St. The title “Divisadero” means "distance, division and the street in San Francisco". All three definitions play a part in the intricate themes Ondaatje has woven together in this complicated story.

The story shifts from northern California to southern France where Anna is researching the life of 20th century poet, Lucien Segura. The life of Lucien Segura becomes the focus of the second half of the book. To the reader it is not clear how the second half of the book is related to the first. But there are many parallels between the realistic, dramatic first half and the poetic, romantic story of Lucien Segura that involves gypsies and the drama and sadness of World War I. The characters in the second story, set in rural France, faintly remind the reader of the relationship of the three children growing up in rural California. All of the characters are looking for a sense of healing and shelter.

Michael Ondaatje has written several books of poetry and the second part of “Divisadero” echoes his poetic genius. “Divisadero” is a book that would easily warrant a second reading to fully appreciate the subtlety of Ondaatje’s writing and the parallels between the two stories. “Divisadero” is a story that will entice readers who enjoy a well told, well written, intricate story with unforgettable characters.

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