The acknowledgements at the end of the book tell us that the names of people who disappeared (mentioned on p.41) are taken from an actual list in Amnesty International reports (see p. 310). Similarly, the description of the assassination of the president [p. 291-95] is based on true events, though the president's name has been changed. Why does Ondaatje insert the names of real people, and the real situations in which they died or disappeared, in a work of fiction?
The aim of this essay is to present you with the reflections driven upon some of the ways reality is depicted in Michael Ondaatje’s ‘Anil’s Ghost’, thus managing to provide the above mentioned question of the subtitle with a complete answer. Michael Ondaatje inserts names of real people and real situations in his work of fiction ‘Anil’s Ghost’. The essay will present you with the reasons underlying this use of reality on behalf of Ondaatje, driven by the reflections on the general ways in which reality is depicted in Ondaatje’s novel.
‘Anil’s Ghost’ is a novel written by Michael Ondaatje. The writer himself has shared with his readers the amount of time he needed to complete the case. It took him seven years to complete this work of his.
Michael Ondaatje is one of what is known to be a popular writer. His talent has been widely acknowledged and his most representative characteristic is his talent to lead his readers see between his lines when they read one of his stories. Ondaatje’s writing style and narrative techniques succeed in guiding his readers’ thoughts to develop even further from what is expressed clearly as an idea or an event. It seems according to critiques who share a similar opinion on Ondaatje’s writing talent, that he always tells something more, hidden behind his words, than what he evidently writes. It is as if each word carries its own meaning burden both literal and metaphorical.
His writing pieces are characterized by innovations in narrative techniques, in description of characters and the role that their memory plays in the apocalypses of well-hidden aspects of their characters as well as an intriguing and highly interesting interplay between reality and fiction.
Michael Ondaatje mainly admired for his novel ‘The English Patient’ managed to draw the attention of a relatively large proportion of readers with his second in order of publication novel, ‘Anil’s Ghost’. ‘Anil’s Ghost’ has acquired its own beyond any shadow of a doubt share in readers’ admiration, with some even reaching the belief that it proved to be even better in terms of intriguing their inner feelings and fueling their concern as far as social matters of worldwide effects are concerned.
‘Anil’s Ghost’ is a fiction piece of writing, written in a non-linear narrative which meets its readers with all these underlying truths that may have been kept in the dark for long but they can never be put aside or totally overlooked. ‘Anil’s Ghost’ talks about the war and its disastrous results not only in terms of numbers, either of the material disasters or of the people losing their life. ‘Anil’s Ghost’ talks about the real loss, the loss of logic and the loss of meaning in life which are all parts of what losing peace and harmony stands for. ‘Anil’s Ghost’ is a fiction piece of writing whose characters, heroes and situations are more than real. They are the representation of all inner thoughts and fears of people, of all their unanswered eternal questions concerning their existence, of all their struggle to orientate their lives and find meaning in them.
There are four main persons upon which the fiction plot of the novel is based. Each one of these persons are fictional or at least this is the way they are presented and built, on behalf of the writer himself.
But the reader realizes the more he / she gets into the plot that each one of this persons represents a real aspect of one’s personality. No matter how surprising or weird it may seem, the truth is there and waits to be perceived and dealt with.
Anil Tissera is a forensic pathology, who has just come back to her birthplace, Sri Lanka after 15 years of absence and cooperates with Sarath. The persons helping them in their investigations on the origins and identity of a skeleton they found which has no resemblance as expected to the skeletons of the 6th century, are a historian of inscriptions, Palipana,, the brother of Sarath, a local doctor himself, Gabini and a ritual painter, Ananda. Each one of these persons are a side of one’s soul. Anil is the courage and wish lying in everyone’s character to find meaning in his / her life and the truth. Sarath is the wish to help others find what they are looking for even though you yourself may not have resulted in what your goal may be. Palipana seems to represent the inner need of any human soul to find historical reference and witness of events which have taken place. Gabini may be another way of the writer to represent and depict all these kinds of people who find themselves trapped in a context they dislike but instead of choosing the easy way out, they decide to stay and fight with their own means against what makes them and their lives miserable and difficult. Ananda, gives the impression of representing the human soul’s need for looking at the bright side of things no matter the difficulties or the personal agony and stress involved in one’s personal route to his / her own catharsis.
It is clear that Michael Ondaatje uses fiction as a veil to cover reality. He doesn’t seem to wish to hide or present reality more beautiful than it really is. On the contrary, Michael Ondaatje seems to be driven by his inner need to lead his readers to drawing their own personal route of their individual catharsis. He talks about a fictional event taking place within a real context. Time and place of his novel are real. The event is taking place in Sri Lanka during the years of the civil war. Both the island and the war torturing the island are real.
The problem may be that people all over the world had not got the slightest idea of that war taking place in that far away island. So, Michael Ondaatje uses fiction as a means to approach a real issue of high importance and potential political implications such as the issue of a civil war.
Ondaatje uses fiction to drive his readers to acquiring awareness of a real issue, of a real situation taking place in one place of the world which although may be so far away from their own microcosm, it has the power to affect life on a worldwide basis.
No war can or ought to be left unattended in a world which has been turned into a global village. No war or expression of violence ought to be overlooked on behalf of a world who prides themselves in acquiring a high quality of life.
Readers of Anil’s Ghost find themselves reading fiction on a real issue. They find themselves face to face with the struggle given by each one of the heroes of the novel who moves between his / her own past and present. Readers are asked to see behind the lines and realize the fragments of individual value which they all built up the story’s connected plot. Each fragment sheds light indirectly to the heroes’ present reactions, attitude and behavior. Each memory or information on their past lives explains the mystery or weirdness of their present appearance. The past is alive in present and present foresees the future outcome of the story. Although nothing can be predicated, readers start to become suspicious on the possibility of the quest’s efficient result. Nothing is said for clear. Present masques and disguises are taken down by readers themselves since parts of the main protagonists’ characters are revealed to them through this interplay of their inner conflicts. There are also points in which the implications on the future plot are given indirectly to the readers like the one of the dialogue between Anil and Sarath.
Michael Ondaatje succeeds in taking his readers to a maze whose corridors are covered in the heroes’ and heroines’ personal individual stories, traumas and nightmares, all of which co-exist under the veil of the war. ‘Anil’s Ghost’ is an innovative novel through which the writer approaches matters such as the effects of neo-colonialism, the conflicts developed in one’s self because of his origins and expectations in comparison to his accomplishments and the contradictions existing in terms of the evolution of one’s identity, with the help of fiction.
Ondaatje approaches all these issues and gives real figures and names of the people who died in this civil war which took place in Sri Lanka from the mid-1980s to early 1990s.
He talks behind fiction on reality and he drives his readers to confront their reality whether it is their personal reality or their common worldwide one.
Fiction is just Ondaatje’s way of speaking his mind and soul to his readers. It is his way of awakening their souls and minds. If real pictures and new reports are to audience just another evidence of violence existing in the world, then Ondaatje needs to awaken them and make them get up from their bed of apathy through a different way.
This different way is fiction interplayed with the reality. It is this interplay which leads Ondaatje’s readers to get engaged in the game of taking off their masques and seeing the world for what it really is.
Barbour, Douglas. Michael Ondaatje. New York: Twayne, 1993
Ondaatje, Michael. Anil’s Ghost. London: Bloomsbury, 2000
The essay is to present its readers with the answer on question 2. The essay will give its own justification on Ondaatje’s use of real figures and names in a work of fiction. The outline of the essay is as follows:
- An introduction presenting the readers with the topic of the essay, what the essay is about
- The presentation of the wider context within which the theme of the essay is to be analyzed and presented (the essay is on why Ondaatje uses real facts and figures in a work of fiction so the wider context within which this theme is to be examined is the interplay of reality and fiction in Ondaatje’s specific work ;Anil’s Ghost’)
- Presentation of the interplay between reality and fiction as developed on behalf of Michael Ondaatje’s writing mastery
- Proof of the interplay through the presentation and analysis of the plot and each character holding the plot
- Presentation of the conclusion driven concerning Michael Ondaatje’s attitude towards reality and the way fiction ought to be used in order to talk to his readers about reality
- Conclusion: Michael Ondaatje is a writer who uses fiction to speak on reality. This is why he uses real figures and events in a work of fiction.