“Anil’s Ghost”- Michael Ondaatje (2001)
Genre: Fiction, History, Human Rights
Book Length: Kindle Edition
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. (description from Goodreads)
This the first book that was assigned to me in my new Human Rights literature class. It was definitely a new reading experience for me since I hadn’t read too many Human Rights style stories before. Our main character is Anil, who is a forensic anthropologist. I felt that as a reader, I had a hard time connecting with Anil, even though she is a central character. The author gives readers little information about Anil despite the fact she is narrating the novel and it makes her seem detached from the situations that play out throughout the plot. Perhaps this a result of her being educated in England and America? Or maybe that Anil is not supposed to be the focus of the novel and we need to see the story through her eyes.
The story is full of multiple perspectives and shifts from the past and present constantly. This helps to give back story to the characters and further develops them for the readers. But it also becomes confusing when perspectives/narration becomes blurred and we aren’t sure of if we are in the present/past or even who is speaking at times.
The story overall itself is pretty interesting though as we get to see the forensic procedures of identifying a body called “Sailor” which Anil and her partner, Sarath find. They go to great lengths facing danger from asking intrusive questions and trying to dig out the truth that some people might want to stay hidden. We also get to meet many other interesting people along the way such as Gamini (Sarath’s brother), Ananda (a sculptor and painter), and Palipana (an epigraphist).
An okay novel. The blurring of the past and present as well as perspectives made it really confusing to read at times. Recommended if you have an interest in human rights literature. 3 out of 5 stars.