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Divisadero [Hardcover]

Michael Ondaatje
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 17 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 multi-layered 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.

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From Publishers Weekly

Ondaatje's oddly structured but emotionally riveting fifth novel opens in the Northern California of the 1970s. Anna, who is 16 and whose mother died in childbirth, has formed a serene makeshift family with her same-age adopted sister, Claire, and a taciturn farmhand, Coop, 20. But when the girls' father, otherwise a ghostly presence, finds Anna having sex with Coop and beats him brutally, Coop leaves the farm, drawing on a cardsharp's skills to make an itinerant living as a poker player. A chance meeting years later reunites him with Claire. Runaway teen Anna, scarred by her father's savage reaction, resurfaces as an adult in a rural French village, researching the life of a Gallic author, Jean Segura, who lived and died in the house where she has settled. The novel here bifurcates, veering almost a century into the past to recount Segura's life before WWI, leaving the stories of Coop, Claire and Anna enigmatically unresolved. The dreamlike Segura novella, juxtaposed with the longer opening section, will challenge readers to uncover subtle but explosive links between past and present. Ondaatje's first fiction in six years lacks the gut punch of Anil's Ghost and the harrowing meditation on brutality that marked The English Patient, but delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The new novel by the author of The English Patient (1992) is easy to read, not because its theme and plot are simple but because the reader simply wants to read it. Told from alternating points of view, the narrative might not have worked. But Ondaatje's experience and skill prevent fatal fragmentation. The story begins in California in the 1970s, with a quiet man who lost his wife in childbirth raising his two daughters, Anna and Claire, and tending his farm with the help of a young man, Coop, who he has more or less adopted. When the maturing Anna and Coop fall into a sexual relationship and are discovered, much to his horror, by Anna's father, a bolt of violence springs up like a ferocious storm, and Anna and Coop flee forever--never to see each other again. The shadow--no, the determining force--of this horrible event on how these three individuals lead the rest of their lives is the tripartite tale Ondaatje follows over the course of the next several years. So the reader experiences an initial sense of segmentation, but it dissipates in the face of strong thematic connections between what are not really segments at all, but rather, layers to the story. The novel's title, not idly chosen, refers to a San Francisco street name derived from the Spanish word for division. What this at once powerful and beautiful novel is about is the division of these three lives into two parts, a bifurcation that occurred when Anna's father found things out and exploded. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
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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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves the Booker Prize. June 13 2007
It is difficult to write a review for a novel that rises above superlatives. Ondaatje is one of the world's greatest living writers, and Divisadero is his finest novel. At times it rises to the level of true greatness, and it is the most challenging novel I have ever read. It is also my new favorite.

Be forewarned: this is not a light read. The prose is smooth and lyrical and unmistakably Ondaatje. The novel focuses on memory, the past, and violence as his prior works have but Divisadero takes the concept one step further: it is separated into three distinct sections, overlapping enough only to give the reader a reason to continue reading. It reads more like a collection of three novellas than it does a novel. It also travels in reverse chronological order. I considered the opening section to be the main story, with the following stories as the reflections spoken of in the last line of the novel.

This is not a novel that concerns itself heavily with plot. It is an exploration of its themes first and foremost. I do not want to speak for the author, but it seems to me it was not written to be a page turner. If that is what you are expecting I think you will probably be disappointed. Any hope of that will be gone with the abrupt end to the opening section. But do not give up because of it. There are many novels with compelling stories: there are few that treat its reader with as much respect as Divisadero. Ondaatje tells you a story, but not all of it. He leaves the unwritten to the reader to piece together. What does it mean that Coop/Anna and Segura both have blue tables they treasure? What does it mean that Coop becomes a card player and Segura names Ramon's sidekick "One-eyed Jaques"? What does it mean that the colors of Anna?
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything is collage July 21 2008
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Divisadero
It is awsome's quality. I received very soon from the store after I order onlie within a week. I thank and love it not even 'Like'.
Published 23 months ago by Liuchuan
4.0 out of 5 stars The Unspoken Boundaries of Memory and Imagination
Divisadero delves into how people's fragmented lives are united by a common desire for understanding and reconciliation. Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2011 by PeterJ
2.0 out of 5 stars not good
too many stories and ideas-i don,t like this kind of writing-i like a fiction to have a story and not the writer,s views of the world-this seems like the writer decided to write... Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2010 by Mary Gina Machado
2.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not the English patient
The writing is beautiful, the characters of Anna, Claire, Coop are well defined but I personally failed to see the continuity between their story and that of Segura and his... Read more
Published on April 28 2009 by Montcler
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourites of 2007
A close runner-up for my favourite book in 2007 was Divisadero. Another sublime read by Ondaatje that, as the title implies, examines the divisions (intentional, unintentional,... Read more
Published on Dec 2 2008 by Steven Teasdale
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful.
The author's style of writting is what makes this book great. The story would not have been interesting if it wasn't for his way with words.
Published on Aug. 29 2008 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars A Story within a Story
In Northern California teenage sisters Claire and Anna live with their father and work the family farm together with Coop, a boy who is brought into the family from a neighboring... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2008 by Teddy
3.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical digression, but a digression all the same.
I was planning to lambaste this book unmercifully for its seemingly inexcusable digression in the middle of the book, where it wanders away from its three main characters and... Read more
Published on March 31 2008 by Gordon Neufeld
3.0 out of 5 stars where is the plot?
I would be getting interested in a plot line and it would be dropped. The last part of the book - Lucien's life, was uneven (to me) and lacked a strong focus. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2007 by Donald W Norris
3.0 out of 5 stars Michael, is it me or are you losing your touch?
Having been impressed by Anil's Ghost and The English Patient (both also by Michael Ondaatje), I was eager to pick up his latest offering. Read more
Published on July 27 2007 by Geoffrey Low
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