Showing posts with label book club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book club. Show all posts

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje


REVIEW and EXCERPT
Warlight
by Michael Ondaatje

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I’ve just joined a book club! Each month, I’ll post my review and the opinions of my fellow book clubbers. This month, we read Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018.
Next pick is Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. Why not read along with us? Our next book club meeting is on 31 January, and I will post shortly after that.

Description
From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.
In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself - shadowed and luminous at once - we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel.
But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey - through facts, recollection, and imagination - that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.

Excerpt
In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. We were living on a street in London called Ruvigny Gardens, and one morning either our mother or our father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year. Not too long, they said, but it would not be a brief trip either. We would of course be well cared for in their absence. I remember our father was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron garden chairs as he broke the news, while our mother, in a summer dress just behind his shoulder, watched how we responded. After a while she took my sister Rachel’s hand and held it against her waist, as if she could give it warmth.
Neither Rachel nor I said a word. We stared at our father, who was expanding on the details of their flight on the new Avro Tudor I, a descendant of the Lancaster bomber, which could cruise at more than three hundred miles an hour. They would have to land and change planes at least twice before arriving at their destination. He explained he had been promoted to take over the Unilever office in Asia, a step up in his career. It would be good for us all. He spoke seriously and our mother turned away at some point to look at her August garden. After my father had finished talking, seeing that I was confused, she came over to me and ran her fingers like a comb through my hair.
I was fourteen at the time, and Rachel nearly sixteen, and they told us we would be looked after in the holidays by a guardian, as our mother called him. They referred to him as a colleague. We had already met him—we used to call him “The Moth,” a name we had invented. Ours was a family with a habit for nicknames, which meant it was also a family of disguises. Rachel had already told me she suspected he worked as a criminal.
The arrangement appeared strange, but life still was haphazard and confusing during that period after the war; so what had been suggested did not feel unusual. We accepted the decision, as children do, and The Moth, who had recently become our third-floor lodger, a humble man, large but moth-like in his shy movements, was to be the solution. Our parents must have assumed he was reliable. As to whether The Moth’s criminality was evident to them, we were not sure.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
“Our book of the year – and maybe of Ondaatje's career” ~ Daily Telegraph Books of the Year
“A novel of shadowy brilliance.” ~ The Times
“Fiction as rich, as beautiful, as melancholy as life itself, written in the visionary language of memory.” ~ Observer
“Ondaatje brilliantly threads the mysteries and disguises and tangled loyalties and personal yearnings of the secret world ... and has constructed something of real emotional and psychological heft, delicate melancholy and yet, frequently, page-turning plottiness. I haven’t read a better novel this year.” ~ Telegraph
“[A] haunting, brilliant novel from Ondaatje … Mesmerizing from the first sentence, rife with poignant insights and satisfying subplots, this novel about secrets and loss may be Ondaatje’s best work yet.” ~ Publishers Weekly
“A lyrical mystery that plays out in the shadow of World War II … Ondaatje’s shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.” ~ Kirkus

Book Clubbers’ Thoughts
“We’re so lucky we didn’t live through any of that. My parents are both English and I’ve heard stories of what they went through. My grandmother had to ‘go away’ during the war and didn’t come back until ten years later. When she died, we found assorted passports and other interesting things. She may have played a role similar to Nathaniel and Rachel’s mother.” ~ Denise
“I thought the greyhound trading and low-level criminality was an interesting aspect.” ~ Jan
“It would make a great movie. It’s an engaging book because it makes you think. It was a really interesting way of telling the story. Nathaniel had to infer what happened to his mother. You never really find out what happened to everyone.” ~ Kerrie
“I liked the historical aspect of the story and learning about the difficulties the characters endured.” ~ Kerry
“I read Nancy Wake’s biography and was interested to compare it to this book. In both books, everyone only knew the part they had to play in the war effort. There was no sharing of information. Warlight is a sad book with many layers. To Nathaniel and Rachel, their mother leaving them was worse than if she had died.” ~ Marie-Louise
“I didn’t really get into it. I thought it lacked emotional depth.” ~ Maryann
Conclusion: generally positive reviews.

My Review
I got this book on loan from the library.


By Lynda Dickson
In 1945, just after World War II, fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his sixteen-year-old sister Rachel are left in the care of their mysterious boarder when their parents move to Singapore for their father’s new job. In their parents’ absence, Nathaniel and Rachel live a seemingly idyllic life, full of eccentric characters, illicit adventures, and secret romances. But all is not as it seems, and danger is lurking just around the corner. Later, as an adult, Nathaniel takes a job with the Foreign Office, where he tries to uncover the secrets of his mother’s wartime past and learns more than he bargained for.
The novel begins with a great opening line:
“In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.”
What follows is a series of vignettes describing the incidents that shape Nathaniel’s life. His childhood stories are recounted by an adult Nathaniel in the manner of a memoir, complete with lapses of memory and the inability to recall certain details.
“You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.”
When he later attempts to piece together the puzzle which is his mother’s life, it’s interesting to see how he interprets these events differently with the benefit of hindsight. Seemingly insignificant incidents from his childhood - such as the radio program his mother listens to, or the route he travels on through the city – take on a whole new meaning when new information comes to light.
“We order our lives with barely held stories. As if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken […] sewing it all together in order to survive, incomplete …”
Nathaniel also tells us stories about his mother and the people she was involved with – things that he could not possibly know.
“I had not been told anything, but […] I know how to fill in a story from a grain of sand or a fragment of discovered truth. In retrospect the grains of sand had always been there …”
Throughout the book, the author reveals the depth of his research, giving us a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of the working class, as well as glimpses into the secret world of wartime espionage. This charming coming-of-age story morphs into a spy mystery and an ode to those unsung heroes of the war.
“There were so many like her, who were content in the modesty of their wartime skills.”
It is also a poignant reflection on how our lives are determined by the things that happen to us in our youth. Nathaniel is very much a product of his unorthodox upbringing.
“What I am now was formed by whatever happened to me then, not by what I have achieved, but by how I got here.”
I just wish we had learned more about Rachel and the impact that these same events had on her life.
Warnings: sexual references, coarse language, sex scenes.

Some of My Favorite Lines
“Nothing lasts. Not even literary or artistic fame protects worldly things around us.”
“I sat silent on the floor, listening to this fairness of sharing I already knew existed nowhere else in the world, which could occur only in dreams.”
“In youth we are not so much embarrassed by the reality of our situation as fearful others might discover and judge it.”
“We passed industrial buildings, their lights muted, faint as stars, as if we were in a time capsule of the war years when blackouts and curfews had been in effect, when there was just warlight and only blind barges were allowed to move along this stretch of river.”
“I think it was becoming clear that it was not just my mother’s past that had become buried and anonymous. I felt I too had disappeared. I had lost my youth.”
“She was unchanged, still constantly new.”
“He’d been an adventurer, and now I stood there, claustrophobic within his life.”
“We lived through a time when events that appeared far-flung were neighbours.”

About the Author
Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje is the author of six previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil's Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.







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