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Anil's Ghost

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  12,227 Ratings  ·  998 Reviews
Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost will surprise readers of The English Patient, although the unmistakable richness of language and emotional power is still there in force.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Bloomsbury UK (first published 2000)
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I read some people in Goodreads saying that this book is composed of fragments. I would rather say it is composed of silences between them. So many things are untold in “Anil’s Ghost”, but can be perceived and felt so clearly. To me this eloquent mosaic of silences was as important, as beautiful and poetic as Ondaatje’s words in this fragmented story. And what can better transmit the fear of the people caught amidst the Sri Lanka civil war than silence?

Ondaatje loosely tells us about the situati
Jul 10, 2010 ·Karen· rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, mttbr-2012
Against the obscenity of large numbers

When a writer, dauntless and unflinching, turns his piercing gaze on mass murder, how does he drag it back into the realm of the human? In 2666 Bolano gave to each and every one of the women murdered in Santa Teresa (Ciudad Juarez), a name, or the clothes they were wearing, or where they were murdered, or, at the very least, how they were found and what happened to the corpse afterwards. He turns each one into an individual, even in the relentless catalogu
Jun 13, 2008 Marguerite rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Expats, lovers, crusaders
I tried to read this once before, but I couldn't get much past page 80. This time, I couldn't put it down, which just reinforces my belief that there's a right time and a wrong time to read each book. This time, I'd been prepared by The Ministry of Special Cases and "The Caretaker," a story in Anthony Doerr's The Shell Collector. I wonder, now, about my recent attraction to refugee fiction or desaparecido fiction. What, exactly, am I looking for? What have I lost, or left behind?

Ondaatje's chara
Lucy Banks
Jan 10, 2017 Lucy Banks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful, restrained... but at times, completely meandering!

I've already read The English Patient, so wasn't surprised when I dived into Ondaatje's world again, which feels very dreamy and evocative. It was a pleasure to read, but at times, a little frustrating... I sometimes had to go back and remind myself which character we were focusing on!

The story is centred round Anil, a champion swimmer turned forensic expert, who has returned to Sri Lanka to investigate a mysterious skeleton, buried in
Oct 20, 2012 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ETA: Warning - you learn very few specifics about the civil war. I was up last night thinking about this and considering if I should remove a star. No, I am not removing one. Ondaatje has a special way of writing, and I like it very much. In the beginning of the book there is a statement that says the war continues but in another way! So I think, what way? Tell me! (He never does.) That irritated me then, just as so much else did in the beginning. I didn't get what I expected but what I got was ...more
Jul 01, 2008 Ellen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in Sri Lanka's dark underbelly
Meh. Listened to this on tape. This contributed to the fragmented feeling of the book, but only a little. I didn't know why certain characters were being fleshed out when they were, or how they were related to the story at all sometimes. Maybe if I'd known more about Sri Lankan politics it would have been more clear. There was some suspense, but it never climaxed. Some of the writing was beautiful and vivid, but not enough to keep my attention if I'd been reading this myself.

Read The English Pat
Oct 29, 2008 Cameron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anil Tessira, a 33-year-old native Sri Lankan who left her country 15 years before, is a forensic pathologist sent by the U.N. human rights commission to investigate reports of mass murders on the island. Atrocities are being committed by three groups: the government, anti-government insurgents, and separatist guerrillas. Working secretly, these warring forces are decimating a population paralyzed by pervasive fear. Taciturn archeologist Sarath Diyasena is assigned by the government to be Anil's ...more
Sharon Dodge
Anil's Ghost, the story of a forensic anthropologist investigating the bones of a war victim in Sri Lanka, is a painful, beautiful book. It is also very honest: the science does not magically resolve itself, but must be worked at; the war is hideous; the cultural knowledge is first-hand; and the heroics are small, if they exist at all, and usually brutally punished.

It is as frequently frustrating, unfortunately, as it is beautiful. Maybe it's just my simple, Hemingway-esque soul, but at times I
May 20, 2016 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s the civil war in Sri Lanka. Anil, the novel’s heroine, is a forensic anthropologist and part of a team investigating possible war crimes. She is paired for the investigation with a government-selected archaeologist named Sarath, an enigmatic man 16 years her senior. Together Anil and Sarath find four skeletons whom they nickname Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and Sailor, the last a source of obsessive fascination. The task is to give Sailor back his identity in order to incriminate the government ...more
Feb 10, 2017 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very, very slow. I had a hard time getting through it but something kept me reading. It was rather hard to read in that it was written in fragments and pieces, not so linear, lots of character backstory. It felt kind of anti-climatic, but it was more of a character-driven, literary novel.

I enjoyed learning about Sri Lanka and the civil war that occurred during the 1980's and 1990's. I had no knowledge of this prior to reading the book. It's very sad to learn that such horrible thin
May 04, 2011 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, sri-lankan
There are pietas of every kind.

And there are many bodies to be held in this Sri Lankan tone poem. The holders, to say the least, are complicated. As are the geopolitics. No happy endings. And no answers.

I sat in a parking spot in Clarion, PA, on a warming May day, and read the last 100 pages in lieu of lunch. This was moving, and incomplete, and poetic, and while I knew this was more a prose poem than a novel, I loved the voice that could say,

There are pietas of every kind.

Hold me.

Postlude: I l
Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
Also reviewed on my Youtube channel.

This is a...complex book. It's the story of Anil, a forensic anthropologist who works with the UN and returns to Sri Lanka for the first time in fifteen years on an investigation. But while it's about Anil and the skeleton of a civil war victim that she unearths, it's more about Sri Lanka itself. It's not just Anil's story, but the story of those who help her - an archaeologist, Sarath; his doctor brother, Gamini; the statue carver, Ananda. It's the story of
Oct 13, 2011 Vicki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I really wanted to like this book. At dinner parties I always try to blend with the wallpaper when somebody starts raving about how the English Patient was the greatest film of all time. I always cringe when I have to admit I thought it was complete rubbish. I'm obviously a uncultured philistine.

This book was going to be my redemption, my step up into the intellectual elite. I wanted to be able to tell all my ever-so-clever friends that while The English Patient didn't rock my world, Anil's Ghos
If I could give Anil's Ghost 3.5 stars, I would.
On the plus side, much of the writing is stunning and Ondaatje creates images that will stay with me forever. One of the novel's central themes is the idea of stone, and everything it can symbolize. All the different ways of thinking about rock are woven brilliantly into the story and I came away feeling immersed in highly complex, satisfying metaphors. The book is also about the relationship we have with our pasts and the suffering caused by war.
May 17, 2014 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
When I look at Michael Ondaatje's author picture I think, well, this is going to be a surly read. How wrong could I get?

Anil's Ghost is a beautifully rendered, elegantly written story of love, loss, conscience, and discovery. It takes place in Sri Lanka in the later years of the horrible, and extended civil war, and focuses on the lives and work of the title character, a forensic anthropologist, and Sarath, her government connected archeologist partner. Many other characters come into focus, and
Nov 16, 2009 Bryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first encountered Michael Ondaatje's writing through the English patient (via the film) and was so taken by his style that I sought out other books.

What captivates me is the incredibly pared down, minimal writing that manages to communicate so much. I find it breathtaking to read.

This is a brutal novel. I gather Shri Lanka is Ondaatje's country of origin, so it's hard not to see this book as having a eprsonal element. Anil is an expert at determining what people did in life by examnining their
This was my first experience reading Michael Ondaatje and I have to say that I was impressed. His prose has an almost poetic quality that made me want to keep reading, and kept me enjoying the novel even when the subject matter was extremely disturbing.

Anil's Ghost is the story of a native Sri Lankan woman who has spent the past 15 years in America. Now she goes back to Sri Lanka as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group. She struggles with making her two worlds co
Sorayya Khan
Sep 27, 2012 Sorayya Khan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ondaatje transports us to Sri Lanka in a time during the 1980's and 1990's when the government was embroiled in a civil war that produced a reign of terror and plenty of dead and disappeared people. Anil returns to her homeland as a forensic expert and representative of an international human rights organization. In a plot that is a bit mystery but so much more, we come to know Anil and Sarath (an archeologist), along with secondary characters like Ananda (artist extraordinaire) and Gamini (Sara ...more
May 08, 2014 Darryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There are so many bodies in the ground now, that's what you said...murdered, anonymous. I mean, people don't even know if they are two hundred years old or two weeks old, they've all been through fire. Some people let their ghosts die, some don't. Sarath, we can do something..."

Anil Tissera was born in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, to a prosperous family, where she achieved a small degree of fame by winning a notable swimming race as a school girl. She left at 18 to attend medical school i
Jun 17, 2016 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because, one way or another, I ended up on Amnesty International's bookclub mailing list thing and this was their book of the month a while ago... so I thought I'd try it out...

I'm so glad I did.

When I started reading it, I feared that the pace of the novel was far too slow and that I would soon lose interest, but eventually I came to see that the value of this book is not in its plot per se, or in the amount of action actually taking place throughout the narrative; the beauty o
(6/10) I just have this thing with Michael Ondaatje. He's one of those authors that seems like they should be write up my alley -- great prose, vaguely postmodern trappings, interesting things to say about how history is written, and Candain on top of all that. But I just find myself not able to engage with his novels, despite being able to recognize their quality. For all the beauty in the passages of this book, I found my attention wandering. Such is life.

Which isn't to say that this book is f
May 07, 2010 Gea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reread, 2012-read, war
Michael Ondaatje, best known for The English Patient, is one of my favorite writers. He writes like a dream. In Anil’s Ghost he captures the spirituality and beauty of life amidst the unfathomable ugliness of war. Anil’s Ghost is a beautiful elegiac story about human beings trying to survive during a war as it erodes their very spirit. This entire novel reads like a poem to be read slowly and savored.

Anil is a forensic anthropologist who reconstructs the history of the dead in an attempt to brin
Nov 16, 2010 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the author did a wonderful job in creating the world of Sri Lanka and the tropical forests there. I liked the idea of an archaeologist teaming up with a doctor, and their meeting up with a Buddha face painter who became blind and his eyes were his relative. This book had some horrific scenes of war, and the casualties of war, and people fighting and being shot incongruously. Anil is an archaelogist who finds a human skull and they try to recreate the face of the person. This person was ...more
Dec 16, 2007 Ashley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Sri Lankan expatriate / western-trained forensic anthropologist returns to her native country to uncover the truth of the horrors of local guerrilla warfare and government-sanctioned slaughtering.

Purely beautiful writing; brings to light the harsh realities of violent warfare in Sri Lanka while simultaneously highlighting the strength & warmth of the human spirit amidst chaos.

"They had brought him nine-month-old twins, each shot in the palms and one bullet each in their right legs -- so
Aug 22, 2015 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's an amazingly written, intense and horrific account of the war in Sri Lanka. Murders, terrorism, beheadings and disappearances on all three sides. Anil is a forensic doctor who has been sent by a human rights group, she meets an archeologist and his doctor brother. The sentences are gorgeous and the subject matter is often nearly unbearable. Ondaatje is extraordinary...and this is an even more scathing a look at the idiocy and horror of war than The English Patient.
Apr 19, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book when it came out several years ago. I love all his books, and found this one to be in my opinion, one of his very best, if not the best one.
It is stunning! A real window into the vicarious evil society in his country. It stays with you always, the fear and the cruelty, and the impossibility of the two sides living together in peace. That was proved out by the civil war there several years ago. It is a chilling story of death, superstition and hauntingly told. I loved it!
I've always been interested in Sri Lanka and troubled by the unrest there. It is only in recent years that I've realized that the government was guilty of its own abuses. So I enjoyed this book to learn more about the issue. But--and this may be a function of having listened to the book on tape instead of reading it--it seemed too disjointed and the ending far too open. Only the dead characters achieved resolution.
Mar 04, 2014 notgettingenough rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit

Not for the first time, one observes how much more meaningful is description of horror in the hands of the fiction writer than in those of the statistician. From this point of view, the novel has won. I feel impelled to read about the history of Sri Lanka, about which I am completely ignorant.


I listened to this as an audio book and I remember the experience was very unsatisfactory. Having since read Divisadero and the The Cat's Table, I know now that you have to read and reread sections of Ondaatje's writing to really appreciate it. And audio books are so coloured by the voice and intonation of the reader.
Jul 07, 2015 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was not an easy read, but, after holidaying in Sri Lanka and identifying with the names of places we had visited it became a more powerful read.
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He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
More about Michael Ondaatje...

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I wanted to find one law to cover all of living. I found fear.... 35 likes
“Jung was absolutely right about one thing. We are occupied by gods. The mistake is to identify with the god occupying you.” 17 likes
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