REVIEW: “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje

Anil’s Ghost

Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury UK, 2000

CHALLENGE(S): Social Justice Challenge

Finished 27 Jan 2010

I read this book primarily for the Social Justice challenge, although I think ultimately it was less about religious freedom and more about politics and fascist oppression. The reason I chose this one from the list, though, was that I read The English Patient last year and fell completely in love with it, so I was eager to read more by Ondaatje. From the cover:

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past–a story propelled by a riveting mystery.”

In spite of what the synopsis promises, this is less a mystery or novel with a straightforward plot than it is a lyrical exploration of Sri Lanka and the characters we encounter. As with The English Patient, I loved the prose; elegant and precise, it draws you right in and paints a vivid picture of the landscape and people he describes. I will say that I found it a bit harder to follow than I’d expected – Ondaatje has a peculiar style that often seems to involve jumping back into the past without much warning, so you have to really concentrate to follow what’s going on. This is the sort of book you either read in one sitting, or read in small doses (that was how I read The English Patient, and it made it much more satisfying).

As I said before, the reason for the “Dirty War” was never quite explained, and since this was for Religious Freedom month it kept bugging me that nobody ever mentioned the reason they were fighting (or maybe they did and I didn’t pay enough attention, it’s hard to tell!). Perhaps one needs to know more about Sri Lankan politics and history to understand when the story is set and the events it describes.

In any case, I read most of it in a single sitting and was completely immersed. I loved the characters, and the ending saddened me a great deal, much to my surprise – I wasn’t aware that I’d grown so attached! Altogether a wonderful book, and while difficult in places it is definitely a worthwhile read.


  1. Second review I have read on this book for the Social Justice Challenge and I am again convinced I need to read this book. Great review!

  1. January 31st, 2010
  2. May 20th, 2010

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