Talking Volumes with Michael Ondaatje

The title of Michael Ondaatje's latest novel, Divisadero, may refer to the street in San Francisco that one of his characters, Anna, claims to have grown up on. "Divisadero, from the Spanish word for 'division,' the street that at one time was the dividing line between San Francisco and the fields of the Presidio," Anna explains to us. "Or it might derive from the word divisar, meaning 'to gaze at something from a distance.'" The first parts of the novel follow Anna and Claire, the girl who Anna's father brought home with him from the hospital when his wife died in childbirth. The farmhand, Coop, rounds out this makeshift family as the brother figure. As the trio rounds the bend to adolescence, Anna and Coop become lovers. When Anna's father finds the two youngsters, his violent reaction drives both of them away from the farm. The trio meet up later in life, but at this point Ondaatje drops this story line in favor of the biography of Lucien Segura, the French poet whose life Anna is researching. The storyline arcs back and forth in time, drawing parallels and mirror images between the two stories to give us a narrative that perhaps can be seen clearly only when we gaze at it from a distance.
Tue., May 27, 7 p.m., 2008

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