In a sunny garden, teenagers Nathaniel and Rachael are told that their parents are leaving them for a year... with their mysterious lodger. After this, the story turns to a nocturnal world of lightless river journeys, trysts in unlit houses, and whispering woods at night. Ondaatje has created a shadow world, and traces the impact on young lives of things half-known. Unaccountably luminous, it is a portrait of the shock and beauty hidden in the blackness, and of the long arm of consequences from lives lived in the murky world of warlight. It is mesmerizing and strangely calming, even as quick revelations of untold dangers keep the reader off-balance and on alert. This is a compelling, masterful work. Recommended By Kathi K., Powells.com
Ondaatje's gorgeous story of postwar Britain is told with just enough information to keep you hanging on. Nathaniel's mother deserts him and his sister to work in the war effort, and that desertion is the through-line that lives inside Nathaniel for the rest of his life. Despite her silence and his frustration with no answers, he is determined to unravel his mother's story. Ondaatje explores themes of abandonment, secrecy, trust, loss, and childhood, but he withholds as much as he shares; there are no perfectly tied-up ends here. Beautifully written, Warlight is a story of how lives can be damaged beyond repair, and how practically impossible it is to live with that damage. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
A young man looks back at a mysterious period, shortly after the end of the Second World War, when he and his sister were left in London in the care of some questionable characters, while their parents traveled abroad for “work." What he can discern, years later, is still veiled in “warlight” — for records of post-war diplomacy and espionage do not invite sunlight and scrutiny, but remain curtained in wartime shadow. Exquisite writing, fascinating characters, and morally ambiguous historical intrigue make this a wholly engrossing read. Recommended By Lori M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement.
In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself – shadowed and luminous at once – we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey – through facts, recollection, and imagination – that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.
“A lyrical mystery that plays out in the shadow of World War II…Ondaatje’s shrewd character study plays out in a smart, sophisticated drama, one worth the long wait for fans of wartime intrigue.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Mr. Ondaatje has stepped into John de la Carré’s world of spies and criminals…his novel views history as a child would, in ignorance but also innocence and wonder.” Sam Sacks, WSJ
"[An] intricate and absorbing novel....This is a book rich with detail. The reader is bound to be conscious of a hidden ballast of research, the seven-eighths of the iceberg without which the thing would founder, but so deft is the writing that you forget this, simply appreciating the meticulous background that brings alive a time and a place." Penelope Lively, The New York Times Book Review
“If writers are cartographers of the heart, Michael Ondaatje’s oeuvre could fill an atlas...[he] evokes a kaleidoscope of ideas and moods with exquisite lyricism…Warlight is an intricate ballet of longing and deception, and a singular ode to the mother-child bond.” Hamilton Cain, O Magazine
“[Ondaatje] casts a magical spell, as he takes you into his half-lit world of war and love, death and loss, and the dark waterways of the past.” Hermione Lee, New York Review of Books
“Warlight is a quiet new masterpiece from Michael Ondaatje…An elegiac thriller [with] the immediate allure of a dark fairy tale. In Warlight, all is illuminated, at first dimly then starkly, but always brilliantly.” Anna Mundow, The Washington Post
About the Author
MICHAEL ONDAATJE is the author of several award-winning novels, as well as a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. Among other accolades, his novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize in 1992 and the Golden Man Booker in 2018; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto, Canada.