Book - 2018
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Decades after World War II, Nathaniel Williams reflects on his experiences in 1945, when his parents left him and his sister in the care of a mysterious neighbor.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2018
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780525521198
Branch Call Number: FIC ONDAATJ 2018
Characteristics: 289 pages ; 22 cm


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Sep 18, 2020

This is not my usual cup of tea (I'd rather read history than historical novels), but this grabbed me from the start. So much intrigue, so many teasers. It read so well that I even resisted the temptation (rarely resisted!) to peek at the ending. And what an ending. Especially since the town of Gakova is mentioned; it has a tragic role in my family's history.

Aug 06, 2020

One critic says this is his best novel since "The English Patient." Not having read it, I can't speak to that, but this is beautifully written, character-driven fiction.

The narrator/protagonist is a wounded soul whose enigmatic mother abandons him and his sister for four years during World War II. He subsequently seeks to reconstruct his mother's past and heal his fractured psyche, succeeding quite well in the first task but not too much in the second.

This is only a summary and, of course, does not do full justice to the story.

I definitely recommend this.

Jun 06, 2020

Interesting of London life for those that were undercover during the war. And how they were still being sought. Not too compelling.

Dec 23, 2019

A well-researched historical novel, this is a jigsaw puzzle of a book. Another of our "project" books, this appealed to my wife's love of mysteries and to my interest in the historical background. We worked together to understand the hints and to try to understand what sort of person Nathaniel becomes.

Nov 08, 2019


Nov 02, 2019

Ondaatje gives us a nostalgic story lyrically told, about reinterpreting our archived childhood memories from the vantage point of adulthood. It helps when those memories plunk us in the middle of wartime espionage and disrupt our sense of safety and justice.

The story starts gently enough, carefully laying the ground work with a table full of intriguing strangers. In fact, you might wonder where Ondaatje is going with all of this delightful but rambling character description, colored with just a hint of skulduggery. But pay attention. For then we are violently thrust into Part 2, left with scraps of unfinished story and many questions.

Now our story teller, Nathaniel/Stitch Williams, deserted as a child by his parents, finds himself in his late 20s working for the British Intelligence in a minor role. But it is enough. His childhood experiences have left him with the skills he needs to ferret out information from secret archives. Slowly he fills in answers to the mysteries of his childhood. We see with heartbreaking clarity how two world wars sucked people in and destroyed families through three generations in Britain.

Beautifully written and replete with wisdom, this story is as highly recommended as Ondaatje’s earlier tales.

Oct 31, 2019

Post WWII London

Oct 06, 2019

Central question of this novel: When we’re unsure of our own family histories, what kind of faulty narratives do we construct to tell ourselves who we are, who our parents were (or still are) and who we should feel loyal to? I lik e Ondaatje’s writing - he’s a poet & his skill with delivering the one definitive detail about a character reflects not only a poet’s way with words, but a poet’s attention to compression. He delivers a character to us by noting, in one case, the green ribbon she wears in her hair. But I think the promotion of this book partly as a “spy novel” was misleading. If you want a page turner, this book probably is not for you. But if characters interest you more than plot, this is an interesting read. Convoluted in spots, and keeping track of the time frame is sometimes difficult. The author indulges in fascinating digressions (who knew that boat traffic in the canals outside London could be so interesting?) Just expect it to move slowly and you’ll be fine.

Aug 05, 2019

A teen aged brother and sister are left by their parents in the care of some pretty shady characters. More than a year later, the children (now young adults) discover their had been working on secret missions for the British government. It was a bit dense and convoluted for pleasurable reading in my opinion, and did not inspire me to read it attentively enough to do it justice.

Jul 08, 2019

Excellent--"warlight" is that of a blue light on a bridge during bombing raids, directing barges
Young man w sister, Dad leaves, then Mom--he learns, as an adult that his Mom works in espionage and is very good at it. She's assassinated, he works in musty files learning who she is/was/what she did. His exper with those she provided to care for him and his sister are the core of the book. Delightful. Evocative. Complete

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Jan 27, 2019

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Jul 24, 2018

SZorn thinks this title is suitable for 20 years and over


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Oct 18, 2019

"I used often to lie awake/ through the whole night,/ and wish for a large pearl" (274).


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