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Why You Should Read Anil’s Ghost: Ondaatjie And How Perspective Is Everything



Uncertain Times


We are three-quarters of the way through 2022 and have arrived on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, we are free from masks, lockdowns, and curfews. The streets have come back to life, and fear no longer stagnates in the air. It is time for us to get back to business as usual. Yet some of us have lost our way.


We are still living through the knock-on effects of a worldwide pandemic. After two years of quarantine, mask mandates, and the ever-looming threat of illness, it can still feel like we are spiraling into ever-increasing chaos. No longer trapped between four corners but imprisoned behind our own eyes. After being confined to our homes, kept from our loved ones, and unable to attend school, work, or social events, what do we have to show for it?


 A failing economy, ever-increasing inflation, and people out of a job as our school children fall further behind. Violence and crime continue to climb as mental health dives, and all the while, we are knocked back and forth by an endless barrage of sensationalized and conflicting media. Conspiracy theorists run rampant, clout chasers dredge up drama, and SJWs spring at any opportunity to obtain the moral high ground. Welcome to the new normal, folks. These are still uncertain times.


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Literature and learning the way forward:


In times of trouble and hardship, we often feel lost, confused, and isolated. During such moments, when the world stops making sense and seems overrun with mayhem, it can be helpful to turn to literature. The wisdom of those before us (who have seen it all before) is within reach, buried in the pages of countless books.


Stories offer comfort. They tell us about people with lives not so different from our own. Like us, characters face strife and struggle. They aren't always sure who they are or what to do with themselves when faced with challenges. We can learn a lot about ourselves and the world around us from the stories told by others.


I think now, given our current climate, books like Anil’s ghost are precisely the kind of remedies we need.


Anil’s ghost is a literary thriller and postmodern text that examines the intersection between the political and the personal. This story seeks to comment on the complexity inherent within identity and the pursuit of truth during times of struggle.




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What is Anil’s ghost anyway?


Anil’s ghost is a literary thriller and postmodern text that examines the intersection between the political and the personal. This story seeks to comment on the complexity inherent within identity and the pursuit of truth during times of struggle.


A native Sri Lankan and forensic anthropologist returns to Sri Lanka after fifteen years of studying abroad. Anil returns as an outsider to a country trapped in civil war. She returns on behalf of the United Nations to Investigate missing persons cases and possible judicial executions committed by the Sri Lankan government.


During her investigation, Anil, along with archeologist Sarath Diyasena, comes across the skeleton of a recently murdered man. He is found in an ancient burial ground among several much older bodies on a site only the army can access. The security around the site suggests the government is involved, and a mystery begins to unfold.


Believing the man's murder to be politically motivated, Anil and Sarath, set out to identify the skeleton and bring justice to the nameless victim. They realize that the mystery surrounding his body might shed light on the disappearance of countless others.


Anil and Sarath are forced to risk their lives on their quest to uncover the truth. They attempt to find all the pieces to a puzzle in a society racked by rumors, misinformation, and propaganda. To do so, they must unlock the secrets of a hidden past while faced with an unknown enemy.


What follows is a story that explores themes of truth, subjectivity, identity, war, and loss. One that delves into the discoveries a person can make externally and internally when faced with dire circumstances.


All this and more unfolds against the evocative background of Sri Lanka’s landscape and culture as Anil begins to reconnect to her roots and identity, meeting many extraordinary characters along the way. Each of whom struggles to find their way in a world governed by corruption, murder, and lies, in this hauntingly beautiful novel about an island of people trapped in a vicious civil war.



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Okay, but what does that have to do with anything?


The themes and motifs explored by Ondaatje within Anil’s ghost are embedded in the book's structure, which is written as a fractured narrative. The novel is divided into eight sections: "Sarath," "Grove of Ascetics," "A Brother," "Ananda," "The Mouse," "Between Heartbeats," "The Life Wheel," and "Distance,” Each section corresponds to a narrative with a specific subject and character related to each section's title. Most of these sections begin with an anecdote from one of the character's pasts. Presenting us a pe of who they are and never revealing the whole story.


This serves several purposes. It creates a contrast between the character’s personalities and views. They are demonstrating how their environment has impacted them all differently and shaped their ideas of what is going on. It also reveals that the reader lacks certain information and insights. That we can only know a little bit about these characters and their experiences and lack a holistic understanding of their lives. Yet, it is essential to learn what every character has to say, both for Anil to uncover the truth and for the reader to understand the book.


In addition, Anil’s ghost jumps backward and forward in time, switching between narrators and points of view. In this way, the reader's experience simulates the characters' experiences. The reader does not learn information chronologically, questions go unanswered, and puzzle pieces are missing or misleading. This structure serves to underline the human cost of war and emphasize the instability and confusion it creates.


Thus, the reader, like the characters, is confused and uncertain and must piece together different stories, ideas, and experiences to make sense of what is going on. It is in this way that Anil’s ghost seeks to question our beliefs around subjectivity and truth. They seek to draw our attention to the power of information and how it can be misused. Thereby revealing how, in an environment riddled with violence, loss, corruption, and lies, the lines between fiction and reality, what is true and what is not, are easily blurred.


Anil’s Ghost teaches us that the pursuit of truth looks different for each person and demonstrates how violence and terror create an uncertain reality. A reality in which truth, identity, and morality become fuzzy. Often, we do not have all the information; we only have pieces and conclude from this, limiting our perspectives.


Through this, Ondaatje asks that we question our beliefs around truth and single narratives and consider information more carefully. He paints a picture of the journey one must undergo when surrounded by war and terror. Detailing the types of internal exploration that become necessary to understand and make peace with such a world. I believe his novel does the same for those who read it. It paints a clearer picture of the realities we face, here and now, in 2020 as we attempt to navigate these uncertain times.


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