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Divisadero

by Michael Oondatje

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; 1 edition (April 17 2007)
ISBN-10: 0771068727
ISBN-13: 978-0771068720

This book is not for the faint of hearts, nor for those who like a straightforward story that has a clear beginning and ending. Divisadero, which is the street on which one of the characters lives, although we never see her there, also means “divider” and is one of the most apt titles I’ve encountered. It deals with divided lives, divided psyches, divided cultures. In its structure, the book is also divided into two apparently unrelated parts. One story is suspended while another begins, in appearance unrelated except for the sense of loss and the yearning for love and family.

What is most engaging about Oondatje’s novel is the sheer beauty of his words, more poetry than prose in their lyrical quality. The reader is transported into this half world where words take main stage to the story itself. Every word, expression, phrase is multi layered and rich and worth savouring.

The story, however, can be confusing and puzzling because of its lack of structure. As one section of the book ends, the story is left in mid-air and while the other starts, one hopes there will be some kind of tie-in, some kind of resolution to these people’s problems. But there isn’t, just as in life there often is not. People remain strangers, ostracized or in self-exile. In the end, Michael Oondatje offers two slices of life that makes the reader an observer rather than a participant. But while we sit there and watch, we are surrounded by the beauty of his words.

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