Divisadero

31 Jan
As a kid, I remember my parents reading The English Patient. I remember my mom talking to someone about this book and explaining that she and my dad had to read it together, discuss it and figure out what was going on because it was difficult to understand and hard to follow. I’ve never read The English Patient and I never saw the movie, but I just read Divisadero, a novel by Michael Ondaatje, who is also the author of The English Patient.

I was originally drawn to this book because of the title, which is a major street in SF and one that I live close to, as I described in this post. I am really into books about SF, or at least have some part of San Francisco in their story line. It’s neat to read about a place and think “oh, yeah, I’ve been there,” or “ohhhh, that’s a totally different neighborhood now.” When I read the back of Divisadero and realized it was by the author of The English Patient, I was kind of scared. The synopsis of the book sounded good, but I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

The book was excellent! While the writing was not linear – I found it beautifully constructed. There were actually two stories to the book, both lived next to each other and played off one another with similar ideas, symbols and characters. Ondaatje is truly an artist with the way that he entwined these pieces and ideas. The book was relevant and thought-provoking. For me it was all about family, loneliness and personal histories. My favorite paragraph in the book:

All my life I have loved travelling at night, with a companion, each of us discussing and sharing the known and familiar behaviour of the other. It’s like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle’s form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those familiar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts, Nabokov said. So the strange form of that belfry, turning onto itself again and again, felt familiar to me. For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.
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