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Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Divisadero (Vintage International)

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Divisadero (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9780307279323
ISBN10: 0307279324
Condition: 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 Anna's 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 novel's 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 one's 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 orphan's sense of history love history” [p. 141]?

4. Because they were raised together, Anna's affair with Coop has incestuous overtones. Could this be why 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 there's another reason? Compare this liaison with the novel's other quasi-incestuous pairings: the young Lucien Segura and Marie-Neige, who has become a symbolic sister to him; Lucien's daughter Lucette and her younger sister's 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 Ondaatje's 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 past-both personal and collective-plays an important role in Divisadero. After turning her back on her childhood, Anna becomes an archivist, cataloguing the past via Lucien Segura's 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 novel's 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 novel's 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 Ondaatje's 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 novel's 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. What-apart from the skill-is being imparted? What distinguishes those characters who have mastered a craft from those who haven't?

12. Most of Divisadero's 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 Anna's love for Coop to the love that Claire feels for him, Coop's love for Anna to that which he later feels for Bridget, Rafael's love of his mother to Segura's 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 at-viewing-the entire novel?

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

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lbelyavski, November 17, 2008 (view all comments by lbelyavski)
Although I initially fell in love with Michael Ondaatje when I read his most famous book, The English Patient, it was Divisadero that made Ondaatje one of my favorite writers. His usage of time makes the story unfold in surprising ways, and the relationships of the characters seem even more deeply rooted. His understanding of human emotions and actions is evident in his story of family and obsession. Ondaatje's command of language makes the plot itself even more beautiful. I would (and do) recommend this book to everyone.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307279323
Author:
Ondaatje, Michael
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Sisters
Subject:
Adopted children
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
20080431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
7.94x5.28x.85 in. .68 lbs.

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Divisadero (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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$2.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Random House - English 9780307279323 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 , "My life always stops for a new book by Michael Ondaatje. I began Divisadero as soon as it came into my possession and over the course of a few evenings was captivated by Ondaatje's finest novel to date....Divisadero is a deeply ordered, full-bodied work, illuminating both what it means to belong to a family and what it means to be alone in the world."
"Review" by , "Ravishing and intricate....Few experiences in contemporary fiction are as sensual and absorbing as making one's way through the pages of an Ondaatje novel....Divisadero extends the liberating and original territory of that earlier triumph [The English Patient] so unforgettably that it's hard, on finishing, not to turn back to the opening page and start all over."
"Review" by , "Brilliant....Divisadero plays whimsically with chronology and memory, with fantasy and historical fact."
"Review" by , "Page for page, Divisadero is an exhilarating read....The rise and fall of every well-turned sentence could be set to music, and his writing has a vivid physicality."
"Review" by , "Magnificent....Ondaatje pulls off the plotlines masterfully....He introduces memorable characters [and] scenes of majestic texture and captivating imagery....From its first to last telling sentence, this aesthetic tale, poetic with human detail, is a rare and precious pleasure."
"Review" by , "Divisadero is powered by narrative force and contains finely chiseled characters. [It] is also a book profuse with poetic imagery, profound themes and the delicate architecture of open verse....Stunning bits of lyrical observation turn up on almost every page....Breathtaking."
"Review" by , "A mesmerizing saga....Ondaatje has woven a tale of loves lost and families sundered in a brilliantly poetic voice — a tale that lingers long after its telling."
"Review" by , "Poetic intensity trumps structural irregularity and storytelling opacity in the celebrated Ontario author's intense fifth novel....Not to be missed."
"Review" by , "[Ondaatje] is a writer of intense acuity. His eminence is well earned. This book is initially difficult, but the more you give Divisadero, the more it gives in return."
"Synopsis" by , From the celebrated author of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost comes a remarkable new novel of intersecting lives across continents and time.
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