by Michael Ondaatje

Hardcover, 2007

Call number





Alfred A. Knopf (2007), Edition: 1st, 273 pages


In California, then the Nevada casino's, 1970 a makeshift family of a father, daughter, adopted daughter and farm hand's lives are shattered by a traumatic event and they are sent off on separate courses.

User reviews

LibraryThing member michaelbartley
This is the third novel I've read by Michael Ondaatje, he writes as a poet more then a novelist. This novel got better the deeper I got into it. Personally I liked Anil's Ghost better but I did like this novel very much at the end. The novel starts in the farm county of Northern California in the 1970s and ends up in the county side of France of pre-WW1 to the end of the war. Onaaatje explores love, family, writing, one of the main characters in a French poet, and our personal fate. The book looks at the mystery of life, what is often hidden.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A beautiful book. Probably not for those who are not fond of intersecting plots picked up at seemingly random places, unclear beginnings, middles and endings, and lack of closures. But it's a beautifully written novel, very much character driven, about love and loss, longing and the strangely accidental yet interconnected paths of life. It reads almost like poetry- it's written in stunning and very atmospheric images.
I probably liked it most of everything I have read by Ondaatje.
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LibraryThing member baswood
I find this a confused novel. There seems to be a conflict in Ondaatje's approach to this book. He develops strong storylines that tend to peter out or stop suddenly while he explores timeshifts and a story within a story that veers toward a postmodernist style. It is as though the strong narrative lines do not allow him space to pour out his lyrical prose on which his reputation stands. The result is three of four interconnected stories that hang together precariously by dint of having familiar characters in each one, although a recurring theme is characters changing their names to sever connections with their past. They at times seem as confused as Ondaatje.

There is of course much fine writing but it is slow to get going as Ondaatje concentrates on the narrative tale of two sisters Claire and Anne and the hired hand Coop growing up together on a North Californian farm. Anne's father stumbles on Anne and Coop making love: a violent scene ensues involving Clair which fractures the family and the remainder of the novel follows these characters who are all running from this cathartic event. Coop flees to Tahoe where he becomes a professional poker player and this is the least successful part of the novel as Ondaaje struggles to paint the glitzy underworld atmosphere of gambling halls and poker games. Claire runs into Coop in Tahoe where she saves his life for the second time and they are abandoned by Ondaatje, who is much more interested in telling Anne's story.

The setting moves to South West France where Anne comes under the spell of Rafael a musician and traveller. Ondaatje is suddenly on safer ground, as he writes lyrically about love, desire and the beauty of the natural surroundings. Anne is researching the life of a fictional French writer; Lucien Segura. Ondaatje delves into the past of a war torn France to tell the back tale of Lucien and immediately the reader falls under the spell of some very fine writing. Ondaatje is describing a car journey through rural France:

There was now not a single lit streetlamp in the villages we passed, just our headlights veering and sweeping along two lane roads. We were alone in the world, in nameless and unseen country. I love such journeying at night. You have most of your life strapped to your back. Music in the radio comes faint and intermittent. You are wordless at last. Your friend's hand on your knee to make sure you are not drifting away. The black hedges coax you on

Ondaatje has written more books of poetry than novels and Divisidaro now slips into short episodic chapters that allows the author to demonstrate his wonderful poetic prose style. He tells of Lucien's fascination and love for Marie-Niege his brutal neighbours young wife, innocent and secret meetings, flowing water and repressed desire. We forgive Ondaatje for sometimes losing sight of his story because his writing is so fine. Lucien returns from the first world war and in a heartbreaking section cares for the ghost of Marie-Niege. Coop the gambler might just as well be in another world and possibly in another novel.

Apparently this was Ondaatje's first novel after a seven year gap and the rustiness shows. He appears to have started off writing one novel and somewhere this has turned into someting quite different. Something quite better I would say, however the book as a whole does not quite work. There are echoes and themes running through the stories, but they seem to be forced. Ondaatje not at his very best.
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LibraryThing member colinsky
Just as I finished this book and read the backflap, I was slightly surprised to discover that I've read ALL of Ondaatje's novels. Surprised only because I leave each one with the same feeling. He's told a great story, but he's told it as only a poet would. It seems funny to think of this as a liability, but I have to say that there are always moments, reading his words, when I can see his shadow behind them, labouring over every single perfect word, trying to make everything ring like music, paint the perfect picture, move my soul in just the right way. And there's often a little counter-response in my soul which says something like "C'mon fercrissake! Just say what you want to say and let's move on!"

This book is a good one, though. Not for those disturbed by twisting, intersecting plotlines with some pretty disorienting transitions from one place and time to another, but definitely for those who've thought about loving who we shouldn't and either admitting or not admitting this to themselves. And who hasn't? Stunning cover art, by the way.
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LibraryThing member IrmaFritz

Some years ago, after Michael Ondaatje had written “The English Patient,“ I finagled an invitation to a private reading held by the Canadian Consulate for an exclusive group of business executives. Upon arrival my husband and I were quickly unmasked as fakes, but, enduring the slings and arrows of whispered remarks and sidelong glances, we held our ground and remained for the reading. When Ondaatje appeared I found him a simple man in dress, humble in manner, and a diffident reader of his works. I recall thinking that if only I wrote prose like his I would strut, not fret, my hour upon the stage.
After reading this introduction, you’ll probably not be very surprised by my confession that when it comes to Michael Ondaatje’s works I’m like a besotted teenager faced with the object of her desire. I find his words magical; his creations dreamlike. Which brings me to “Divisadero,” Ondaatje’s most recent novel, a much debated and often maligned work.
In “Divisadero” Ondaatje explores the bonds of family: the family given us through blood-relation and the family we choose. Anna, is the only daughter of a Northern California widowed farmer who adopts another girl, Claire, when Anna’s and Claire’s mothers both die in childbirth. Born just hours apart, Claire becomes Anna’s “twin.“ A boy, Coop, the orphaned son of a neighboring farm couple, is already part of the family. Divisadero is the story of these three. We meet them briefly as teenagers, see the family torn apart, then each of them continue their separate lives. Claire and Coop meet again, accidentally, but providentially.
Coop’s story seems to strike some reviewers as the least satisfactory, charging the writer of having created and then abandoned this character. Coop represents the random violence all of us often face in life through war, fate, or of our own making. Coop’s parents were murdered when he was just a boy, he is taken into this neighboring family, then expelled, cruelly and violently. Although he is a temperate man, violence follows him like his own shadow until Claire gently guides him home. This, to me, is a very poignant scene and satisfactory conclusion to Coop’s story.
But Anna is the focus and storyteller of “Divisadero.” Although she leaves home and country, her siblings and father are never far from her heart and mind. She finds her soul mate in the past life of Lucien Segura, a poet whose life story she explores as she settles into his house in the small village in Southern France and chooses his “adopted” son as lover and companion. This is where Ondaatje’s writing turns truly magical. As Anna’s and Segura’s stories intertwine, the scenes become stunningly sensual, gorgeously trancelike.
When I finished “Divisadero,“ I felt such a loss, I had to re-read this book at once. I wanted again to take part in the lives of the ill-fated Marie-Neige and her husband, Roman, an incarnation of the enigmatic Coop, all raw rage, which he is unable to verbalize. I wanted again to eat a simple meal of herbs and onions grown in the garden of a small farm house in Southern France on a warm summer’s day. And I wanted again to dance with no purpose with a cat. So find yourself a quiet corner in a garden or a sun-filled room and let one of our generation’s greatest writers awaken your senses, touch your heart, and seduce you with this magic dance called “Divisadero.”
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LibraryThing member KinnicChick
I have now read three of Ondaatje's novels (The English Patient has had three readings at least) and this one was more convoluted than the others. I was going to describe it via the double helix, the side by side twisting of stories that intertwine. But that isn't quite right, because that vision is a little too symmetrical. The stories within Divisadero, while clearly related, don't have that symmetry going for them.

The novel (pair of novellas? - some describe it this way) begins with three young people, Anna, Claire and Coop, who are brought up by the same man. Only one daughter is naturally his, the other two are raised by him due to varying circumstances; Claire brought home from the hospital after her birth (which took place where and when Anna was born) and Coop coming into their home when he was four.

Neither one of them had made a move before the other. It felt as if one heart beat was at work. Anna - who used to leap around like a boy or a dog; the one who'd broken her wrist, which Coop had splinted up with willow before he drove her to a sawbones in Petaluma, and who dared her sister to walk across the highway by the reservoir blindfolded ('I'll pay you, Claire') and, when Claire didn't, did so herself; the one who read so constantly and carefully she always had a frown, as if gazing at a fly on the end of her nose - one day began walking up the east ridge to his cabin in sunlight, along the curving path the cows, and sometimes Alturas, took.

As the near-siblings grow older, a closer and intimate relationship develops between two of them.

Was what happened a sin or a natural act? You live within the crucible of a family long enough and you attach yourself to what you gaze on as a boy or a girl, some logic might say to explain what took place on that deck, in the silence where there was no hammering, a silence as if no other life was being lived.

But tragedy hits when Anna's father finds them. The story picks up again years later and the once intertwined lives are now on different and very divergent paths.

The raw truth of an incident never ends, and the story of Coop and the terrain of my sister's life are endless to me. They are the sudden possibility every time I pick up the telephone when it rings some late hour after midnight, and I wait for his voice, or the deep breath before Claire will announce herself.
For I have taken myself away from who I was with them, and what I used to be. When my name was Anna.

As in his previous novels, Mr. Ondaatje uses rich language and a circuitous path to tell the stories of these lives going back and forth in the telling to give it a multilayered texture that feels like a dance.
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LibraryThing member cinesnail88
I'm a huge Ondaatje fan, and I've been looking forward to reading this one for some time. Seeing as I'm living in San Francisco this summer, it only seemed appropriate that I should seize the day. I was not disappointed. The saga of Anna, Coop, and Claire was fascinating, and I only had two complaints about the whole book, one of which was that it wasn't long enough.

The ending was a bit lacking in my opinion, as well, but I guess I can't have everything. That aside, this one still gets top marks from me.
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LibraryThing member Gail.C.Bull
A powerful tale of three adopted siblings and the events that forever connect and divide them. Beginning in Gold Rush-era California and spreading across Atlantic ocean, Divisadero has all of the imagery and emotional mystery that Ondaatje has become celebrated for.
At times I found my attention wandering from the story and I'm not sure if this was due to my own lack of interest in the specific subject matter or because Ondaatje included a lot of different locations and ideas but didn't always link them effectively to central idea of the novel. I may need to read it again to decide which was to blame.… (more)
LibraryThing member heathersblue
Ondaatje is one of my all-time favorite authors. His writing is so poetic ans well-constructed. This is one I need to read again. I read the stories as a string an the character's stories morphed into others. As per usual, the ending hit me hard and feeling like I didn't get the whole picture...I like books best that I need to read again. The initial reading was wonderful!… (more)
LibraryThing member ccayne
Ondaatje is truly an amazing writer; each book is a testament to his skill with language and imagery and this one is his finest. I hated for it to end; it was so beautiful to read and be memerized by his sentences. Reading this book makes you reflect on the fragility and mutability of identity and bonds. I plan to read it again.… (more)
LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero is beautifully constructed and written. It is a bit complex, and difficult to explain without divulging too many details, but I’ll try.

It is the story of three children, raised by the same man, whose name we never learn. The eldest child, a boy named Cooper, was taken in by the man and his wife after a tragedy destroyed his family. Anna was born to the man’s wife, Lydia Mendez, who died shortly thereafter. When the man took Anna home from the hospital, he also took Claire, another baby who had been born at the same time and been orphaned. This family lives and works on a farm in Northern California, near Petaluma.

The story begins when the children are teenagers, in the 1970’s. Initially, Anna is the narrator. After an incident of extreme violence tears apart the family, Cooper and Anna leave the farm. When the story picks up, many years have passed. The children are grown, and each is leading a separate life. The have, in fact, not seen or spoken to one another since the incident.

The remainder of the story is told from each of their viewpoints. They take different paths to adulthood. Anna is living in rural France, researching the life of Lucien Seguro, a writer. In his life, we see echoes of the lives of our original characters.

As I said, this book is a bit difficult to explain but it is worth reading. Divisadero is a winner of the Governor General’s Award for fiction. This prize is given by the Canada Council for the Arts. Michael Ondaatje’s best known work is likely The English Patient, which was a Man Booker Prize winner. Ondaatje’s prose is lyrical and quite, and lovely to read. If you’re looking for a novel to challenge you a bit, this might be it.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Michael Ondaatje is an amazing writer -- his use of language is beautiful. And, he tells a good story.

This is the story of Anna, Claire and Cooper, living on a farm in the 1970s until an act of passion and violence rips the family apart forever.

Anna leaves the family home, never to return. Yet, she finds herself immersed in a parallel life (that of author Lucien Segura and his family), proving that you can't ever get away from who you really are.

The book is more like two intertwined stories rather than a novel. I came to care very much about Anna, Claire and Coop, and they pretty much disappeared from the book about half way through it. The story of Lucien Segura slowly grew on me, but it took a few hours after I'd finished reading the book to really appreciate how closely linked the two stories actually were.
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LibraryThing member EleanorRusnak
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Brief, crystalline lingustic frameworks around essential, sensual experiences characterize this unusually-structured novel by Michael Ondaatje. It reads like a train of thought from start to end, drifting across space and time as they evocative memories of its characters tug at it.

It's a jolting ride sometimes, leaping unapologetically from Anna, Coop and Claire's family on an idyllic, Stegner- or Steinbeck-esque California farm to a brutal, drug-addled gambling montage in Nevada, where everything seems to be done in deep blues and night. Then a long jaunt in southern France where everything is different but ever so slightly the same.

Ondaantje peels his words carefully from a layered world of experience and emotional intensity. He captures well the high, sharp emotions that shape our lives, the pivots of meaning at which everything changes, sometimes across generations. Experiences had by people divided from each other by reality or time, but connected by the barest filament of something. A senescing author in Gascony, an overconfident card shark.

Don't wait for something to happen or make sense. It is not a logical progression, nor is there the satisfaction of resolution at the end. To some it will likely feel frustrating and ill-focused. But if you half-close your eyes and let your mind loosen its grip on causality, there are some golden, sun-calmed fields in Southern France and a hermit's cabin in the hills near Petaluma that you might want to go on a quiet, literary vacation to.
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LibraryThing member petaloutha
I just finished reading this novel and found it a good read.

The story is about two identical twin girls and how their lives are changed through the relationship they build with the neighbor's son who they adopt into their family. As it travels through their pasts and most current life stories it is hard to put down the novel.

Although, the story of a French author is also planted in the novel and at points it makes it difficult to understand as it weaves inbetween the other story. It is however a good addition to the novel as it seems that Ondaatje uses the story of the French author (whose story takes place decades before the story of the twins) to underline the impact of the relationships that we read about between the twins and the adopted son Coop.
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LibraryThing member tborchar
Although this novel is classified as fiction, Ondaatje's poetic ear permeates every page of this multi-layered, many-textured piece of prose. On the first read, the tragic and eulogistic tone reminds one of Woolf's "To the Lighthouse"--Ondaatje's concern for discerning life through moments is particularly Woolfian, and rarely does he ever order the reader through his text; he suggests, intimates, perhaps turns the reader's gaze in a very general direction, but promptly gives up control and demands that reader draw his or her own conclusions. If you don't like being left to your own devices with the narrative, avoid this novel. If you love great writing, read this book over and over and over again.… (more)
LibraryThing member shani413
Beautifully written, heartbreaking and haunted. The story of the dynamic of a cobbled family and the errors that tear it asunder. Speaks of the growth and stunt of living through tragedy. One of the best books I've read in years.
LibraryThing member miriamparker
Oh my god. Every once in a while and this happens like maybe once a year, I find, you read a book that is just the RIGHT BOOK at the right time. And this is it. Amazing. Gorgeous. It's hard to even say. Because there is also a roughness to it, to the characters that is almost gripping. That and, ta-dah it is so intricately structured. I love structures that I want to think about. And this is one. I want to just turn it over and read it again and again.It also makes me want to go back and read The History of Love which was that most perfect book about two years ago. Sigh. Now I have to read something very silly otherwise I will be sorely disappointed. Everyone who hasn't read this one must read it right away. You will be awed and amazed.… (more)
LibraryThing member cjthom
Ondaatje, in his typical style, writes sensually beautiful prose in this novel. I particularly enjoyed the portions of the book that take place in California-- as a former Californian I felt he captured the essence of that landscape brilliantly.
LibraryThing member marient
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 that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writerr 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.
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LibraryThing member sralph
Exquisite writing. A moving tail that weaves intricate patterns through loosley connected realtionships. The characters remain eternally isolated although, through brief encounters, they are allowed flighting moments of passionate, life changing connection.
LibraryThing member msbaba
Booker prizewinning author Michael Ondaatje admits in a newspaper interview that his new book, Divisadero turned out to be an unintentional prose experiment. Some describe this novel as two loosely interlocking novellas, with similar themes that repeat—not directly but more like echoes. I certainly wouldn’t call it a novel, nor would I say it is a collection of loosely overlapping short stories. It is in a class by itself—outlandish, groundbreaking, brazen, deliciously original. What’s important is that is succeeds magnificently.

Michael Ondaatje admits that he was also completely surprised when the second story pushed itself through the first and wouldn’t let go. He just let the two stories evolve, side-by-side. When he was done sketching out the whole, he jumbled up the pieces and put them back together in a new, wholly fresh and revealing way that highlights the rich thematic scaffolding supporting the whole.

If you love your literature with a strong narrative, you will be sorely disappointed by this work. Both stories barely qualify as complete tales. In some respects, the work is like two long prose-poems, where the reader is expected to fill in the missing pieces. The mental and emotional satisfaction of this book comes unquestionably with the beauty and weight of the whole. But there is also a great deal of joy to be had merely in lingering over Ondaatje’s sensuous, imaginative, and unforgettable prose.

Personally, I absolutely loved it. I read it twice in quick succession. Then I waited almost a week after finishing it the second time before writing this review. That’s new for me. Typically I write a review shortly after finishing the book. But this work kept me fully engaged and intellectually entertained for a long time after the reading stopped.

Without question, there is far more heft to this work than a normal novel. I found my mind working overtime remembering passages and then jumping back to the book to reread them. When I least expected it, new thematic insights would pop into my mind unleashing a cascade of more research, rereading, and reflection. This book definitely hot-wired my brain! I found my creative mind taking possession of my daydreams, spinning out delightfully missing story pieces. In a similar fashion, while quietly reflecting on one of the books many themes, out of the blue, some long-half-forgotten event in my own past would reappear and resonate on a similar wavelength.

The joy of reading this book was exceptionally long-term and deeply satisfying on both an intellectual and personal level. I would not hesitate to recommend this book highly to all lovers of modern literary fiction.
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LibraryThing member otterley
It is always rather embarrassing not quite to 'get' what it is about a book that is so well reviewed, particularly when that experience leaves you feeling a bit intellectually inadequate. I found this book (a subtle grouping of interconnected novellas above love and lust, place and time) difficult to engage with. In particular, the scenes set in France felt very cliched to me - do we really need yet more exquisite writing about the simple pleasures of the French countryside? Having just driven through some of it, I feel the book failed to engage with, for example, the large numbers of le Macdonalds and out of town superstore sheds that exist alongside the charming stone buildings and local cheeses in most of rural France! Though perhaps the fantasy element of it was intentional, aimed at juxtaposing an idealistic vision of France with the more rough hewn depiction of America. The American scenes and characters felt more vital - the world of gambling and organised crime, alongside the hard work of country life and a set of more or less inarticulate relationships. So while I admired the craft of construction and wordplay in the book, it never took life for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member SharonQ
Although the plot lines are confusing at times, I really admire the resonance between the stories and the hopeful outlook for the strength of family connections without the explicit finality of happy endings.
LibraryThing member mairangiwoman
For some odd reason I found this difficult to get into the first time I tried - but this time it was pulling me in to the past and present of the 3 main characters [and the French setting of part of it.] Very very well constructed and written as you might expect.




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