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A wonderful adventure!
on October 31, 2011
This is a beautiful tale that unwinds itself at a leisure pace and packs a wallop ending which I won't tell). Based on the real event of Ondaatje's own travel from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to England when he was a young boy, the tale centers around a young boy called Michael traveling to see his mother after years of absense (Ondaatje does point outbthat most of the events and characters were made up). The Cat's Table refers to the table the boy and his companions are positioned to eat at which includes two other boys, his older cousin, a musician down on his luck, a botanist and an eccentric woman who wears a jacket for her pigeons. Quite the cast. As the tale unravels there is more here that meets the eye - enter a band of circus performers, a mute girl and a prisoner who is kept below decks and two policemen to watch the prisoner. Something seems a miss?
Ondaatje marvelously weaves the tale by first telling us about the journey and then jumps to the future explaining what has happened to various lead characters. Then one grasps that our Michael is searching for clues about an event that happens during that journey. He does so easily that the travel tale becomes a mystery without myself realizing it and yet it is a reflection about the last vestiges of childhood that occurred on that trip.
Like Liesl Schillinger's review in the New York Times, I too was awed by the ease and depth of the story. A truly enjoyable read.