Narrative in Transit: Michael Ondaatje and the World Novel

The global community of Michael Ondaatje’s readers was rocked in 2007 by the publication and critical success of Divisadero, a transnational yet also deeply regional novel for which Ondaatje’s previous works had not quite prepared us. Briefl y, the narrative is divided between a family (a father and his daughter, Anna, adopted daughter Claire, and the orphaned hired hand Coop) in the 1970s California countryside, and the story of the obscure writer Lucien Segura in pre-World War I southern France. The novel’s cross-cultural, transhistorical narrative strands are linked by a violent act that splits the family apart. Upon discovering his daughter’s sexual involvement with Coop, Anna’s father explosively interrupts the teenagers’ lovemaking and banishes them both from the farm. Years later, Anna resettles in France where she researches Segura’s life, partly in an attempt to escape her own past. Claire relocates to San Francisco, but still visits her adoptive father on a weekly basis, while Coop is left to wander through the neon landscapes of Nevada’s casinos, watching footage of the Gulf Wars on TV to break the dull pattern of gambling.