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The Many Layers of Michael Ondaatje's 'Divisadero'

Jun 2, 2007 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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The San Francisco street that provides the title of Michael Ondaatje's fifth book suggests a dividing line - a split.

Indeed, Ondaatje's Divisadero is like reading two novels in one. The author of The English Patient divides his novel between a family in 1970s California, and an author in pre-World War I southern France.

In California, sisters Anna and Claire live with their father and Coop, a young man who works at their farm. A violent act splits the family apart, and years later Anna resettles in France to research the life of author Jean Segura, who lived and died in the house where she lives.

The task for readers is to understand the parallels between Segura's compelling story and Anna's past. Ondaatje discreetly calibrates and connects the stories to reveal reflections across time and place.

Ondaatje spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon about how he brought his characters' disparate lives together.

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