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. And speaking of challenges, this book is the first of ten I’m reading for the book awards reading challenge.
Published in hardcover-Alfred A. Knopf-2007