I read some people saying that this book is composed of fragments. I would rather say it is composed of silences between them. So many things are untold in “Anil’s Ghost”, but can be perceived and felt so clearly. To me this eloquent mosaic of silences was as important, as beautiful and poetic as Ondaatje’s words in this fragmented story. And what can better transmit the fear of the people caught amidst the Sri Lanka civil war than silence?
Ondaatje loosely tells us about the situation in Sri Lanka during some of the worst years of the civil war, where people felt trapped in the conflict between the government, the antigovernment insurgents and the separatist guerillas. During these years people were disappearing in big numbers, their bodies later appearing in the sea, rivers, fields or crowded hospitals. More often, they became lost forever. The three conflicting groups were the main players in this terror, none better in its methods than the other, which meant that the only way for people to survive was keeping their heads low and being silent. Not asking questions. Not looking for the answers, not wanting the truth.
Anil, a forensic pathologist who left Sri Lanka, her country of origin, fifteen years ago, comes back on a seven week mission to investigate the infringements of the human rights in the country. She is determined to identify a victim whose bones were found in the area protected by the government. Will her quest for truth be successful? Could naming one victim help her name and stand for all of them? Does it really matter which group is responsible? Can the truth be more important than peace?
Anil’s local partner in the investigation is Sarath, a Sri Lankan archeologist, who finds solace in his studies. Archeological artefacts serve him as an anchor, the only things that are stable in his life, never changing throughout thousands of years. Sarath seems to Anil remote and impenetrable, difficult to trust because of his contacts in the government.
And then there is Gamini, Sarath’s younger brother, one of the most beautifully crafted characters I have met in my literary life. Gamini is a doctor who is not capable of sleep, except for maybe a short moment in a bed of a ward, who almost lives in the hospital, never finding peace anywhere else, who is afraid of the dead, afraid to see their faces, lest he recognizes them.
A doctor, a forensic pathologist and an archeologist. A study of the living, the dead and the immortality.
The book evolves slowly, taking us back and forth in time, peeling off the layers of its characters, getting us closer to their nature, revealing one startling and uncomfortable truth after another, until we are sucked in, immersed in this wearisome journey and until it spits us out burnt-out and wasted and, perhaps, a little less ignorant.