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Divisadero Cover

ISBN13: 9780307266354
ISBN10: 0307266354
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. “The raw truth of an incident never ends,” Anna says (p. 1). What might she mean by this, and how is her statement borne out in the course of the novel?

2. Setting plays a large role in Divisadero. How does Ondaatje characterize the Northern California countryside of Annas childhood? How would you compare it to the French countryside where Segura spends his life and where the grown-up Anna retraces it? To what extent are this novels characters connected to their physical environments?

3. Anna is an only child, but one with two adoptive siblings. So, for that matter, are Claire and Coop. What is the significance of adoption in this novel? Are its “natural” children necessarily the most favored? Which of these characters becomes an orphan later on, by necessity or by choice? How might losing ones original family have an effect, for better or for worse? Why do you think Anna is introduced in a chapter titled “The Orphan”? And what might she mean when she observes, “Those who have an orphans sense of history love history” (p. 141)?

4. Because they were raised together, Annas affair with Coop has incestuous overtones. Is that why you think her father reacts so brutally when he finds them together? Might this be what drives her to reject her former life, or do you think theres another reason? Compare this liaison with the novels other quasi-incestuous pairings: the young Lucien Segura and Marie-Neige, who has become a symbolic sister to him; Luciens daughter Lucette and her younger sisters fiancé; Marie-Neige and her husband when they masquerade as brother and sister. How does the author seem to view these relationships? Do they seem to represent a perversion of intimacy or a heightening of it?

5. Closely aligned with the theme of incest is that of hidden or mistaken identity, a theme suggested by the Sanskrit term gotraskhalana, which denotes “calling a loved one by a wrong name” (p. 152). Which of Ondaatjes characters pretends to be someone else? Which of them mistakes one person for another, or is misled into doing so? Which of them sloughs off a name, like the thief who calls himself Liébard and then, suddenly, on a whim, Astolphe? What do these impostures and confusions suggest about the nature of identity? Why might Liébard/Astolphe refuse to be photographed?

6. The pastboth personal and collectiveplays an important role in Divisadero. After turning her back on her childhood, Anna becomes an archivist, cataloguing the past via Lucien Seguras life. After two brutal beatings as a result of his love affairs, Coop forgets his past. How does the past function in these instances, among others? Would you say these characters are trapped in it or sustained by it?

7. At what points does history intrude into this novel, and with what effect? Why might Ondaatje have chosen to set one scene involving Coop during the first Gulf War and another on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion?

8. How is the theme of the past reflected in the novels chronological scheme, which moves from the 1970s to 2003, then backward in time to the turn of the last century, then forward once more? Why might Ondaatje have chosen to structure Divisadero this way? How does this affect the novels sense of suspense, and how might you relate this to the kind of suspense that young Lucien and Marie-Neige find in The Black Tulip?

9. Most of Ondaatjes characters are looking for something or someone: Anna for a long-dead writer, Coop for love and treasure (dredged from the river or extracted from the suckers at a card table), Claire for Coop. Discuss the role quests play in Divisadero. How, in particular, do they form a bridge between the novels present and its multiple pasts? Which of the characters quests is destructive, and which useful, even vital?

10. There are certain key repetitions in the novel. Discuss the doubling (and sometimes more than doubling) of the following: an attack by an animal, a woman nursing an injured man, a father coming upon his daughter making love, a man imparting a skill or craft to a younger one.

11. What role does craft play in this novel? Discuss those scenes in which someone learns to, for example, build a cabin, or deal poker, or repair a clock, or write a novel. Whatapart from the skillis being imparted? What distinguishes those characters who have mastered a craft from those who havent?

12. Most of Divisaderos characters are motivated by love, of various sorts. How does Ondaatje characterize these kinds of love? Which kinds are exalting and which degrading, and why? Compare Annas love for Coop to the love that Claire feels for him, Coops love for Anna to that he later feels for Bridget, Rafaels love of his mother to Seguras love of his daughter Lucette.

13. The novel takes its name from a street in San Francisco where Anna lives for a while. In Spanish the word means both a division and a vantage point (pp. 142–3). Does this double meaning suggest a way of looking atviewingthe entire novel?

14. At least two of this books narratives lack an obvious conclusion. Why might Ondaatje have chosen to end them when he does? How is this related to Annas aforementioned statement: “The raw truth of an incident never ends”?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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heavenlytruffles, December 14, 2007 (view all comments by heavenlytruffles)
I recently met this author in TORONTO CANADA. HE gave a wonderful reading of this book and also answered questions from audience. In addition this book was being honored as one of the 5 best CANADIAN BOOKS OF THE YEAR. Award is called GOVERNOR GENERAL AWARD. This is one of the top literary prizes in CANADA.
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Jenny Steele, June 27, 2007 (view all comments by Jenny Steele)
As with all of Ondaatje's works, this novel too is impossible to describe in a neat and tidy way. A violent event in the characters' young lives shatters them all and sends them on wildly different paths. We are taken from the menacing world of brutal poker to a writer's farmhouse in France. Yes, hard to describe. But, as usual, beautifully written with paragraphs or whole sentences you'll find yourself reading out loud.
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Product Details

Ondaatje, Michael
Adopted children
General Fiction
Publication Date:
May 2007
Grade Level:
8.62x6.04x1.13 in. 1.06 lbs.

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Divisadero Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780307266354 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Reading Ondaatje's new book, Divisadero, is like listening to great music. You are caught up in the moment, the elegiac writing, and propelled into a different reality. The crescendo brings it altogether, the passion, the years of hurt and pain, and the healing power of time. Like great music, you will need to listen to this book again and again, each time discovering new depths and greater understanding.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Ondaatje's oddly structured but emotionally riveting fifth novel opens in the Northern California of the 1970s. Anna, who is 16 and whose mother died in childbirth, has formed a serene makeshift family with her same-age adopted sister, Claire, and a taciturn farmhand, Coop, 20. But when the girls' father, otherwise a ghostly presence, finds Anna having sex with Coop and beats him brutally, Coop leaves the farm, drawing on a cardsharp's skills to make an itinerant living as a poker player. A chance meeting years later reunites him with Claire. Runaway teen Anna, scarred by her father's savage reaction, resurfaces as an adult in a rural French village, researching the life of a Gallic author, Jean Segura, who lived and died in the house where she has settled. The novel here bifurcates, veering almost a century into the past to recount Segura's life before WWI, leaving the stories of Coop, Claire and Anna enigmatically unresolved. The dreamlike Segura novella, juxtaposed with the longer opening section, will challenge readers to uncover subtle but explosive links between past and present. Ondaatje's first fiction in six years lacks the gut punch of Anil's Ghost and the harrowing meditation on brutality that marked The English Patient, but delivers his trademark seductive prose, quixotic characters and psychological intricacy. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Divisadero flows like a symphony of distinct movements."
"Review" by , "Ondaatje is a master at constructing breathtaking passages."
"Review" by , "Divisadero is art; it is stuffed with unbearable love, and it is magnificent."
"Review" by , "[A] beautifully crafted tale of separated sisters and torn-apart lovers."
"Review" by , "Episodes are boiled down to their essential elements, distilled but dramatic, resulting in a mosaic of profound dignity, with an elegiac quietude that only the greatest of writers can achieve."
"Review" by , "Divisadero is easy to read, not because its theme and plot are simple but because the reader simply 'wants' to read it." Booklist
"Review" by , "Each of his books is filled with passages of such finesse and vividness that they become a part of us."
"Synopsis" by , The eagerly awaited novel by the internationally acclaimed author of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost.

A new novel by Michael Ondaatje is a major publishing event, and one that defines any publishing season. Divisadero, Ondaatje's magnificent new novel, is psychologically intricate, visually ravishing, devastating and beautiful. It promises to be his most successful hardcover publication yet.

"Synopsis" by , Michael Ondaatje's eagerly anticipated new novel, Divisadero, unravels a haunting story that ranges from northern California to central France, introducing characters who become part of our own lives. Divisadero brings together all of the elements for which Michael Ondaatje's fiction is celebrated.
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