By Michael Ondaatje
Sri Lankan-born Anil, whose name she bought from her brother when she was a young, famous swimmer, and who has studied in the UK and the US, returns to her war-torn homeland as a forensic anthropologist investigating human rights crimes. Sri Lanka is a mess, and the lives of its people are messier, eked out in the shadow of murder, mayhem and distrust. Anil’s investigative partner is the anthropologist Sarath, whose connections in the government arouse uneasy suspicion in Anil. The pasts of Anil, Sarath and those they have loved and love are unravelled in lyrical snapshots at a masterful pace, and are entwined with the geography and spiritualism of a country slowly falling apart. Ondaatje has written a novel about his country of birth that is less gripping than The English Patient – the unfortunate comparisons are inevitable – but more political and realistic. Paradoxically, the realism is revealed more sharply under that veil of breathlessly romantic and poetic prose that only Ondaatje can get away with.

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