Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
When the weapon inflicting a wound is done with its work, it hops onto to its next victim with a repugnant nonchalance. It doesn’t look back, it has barely any emotion. But it does not do the disappearing act before leaving behind the story of the ‘scar’ – the scar hidden inside the wound. And the thing about scars is that they are permanent, or nearly so.
Nathaniel was unfortunate to receive one such scar early on in his life, in 1945, when he was 14-years old to be precise.
Those were unusual days in London because despite the departure of the ravaging winds of World War II, its destructive mark was visible everywhere around him – on his hometown, on his friends, on his family. There was apprehension behind a smile, paranoia behind a hug. And all this tentativeness suddenly morphed into something terrifying when one day, Nathaniel’s parents left his sister and him with a caretaker to pursue better professional opportunities in Asia. Nathaniel never remained the same since that day.
Conjuring the impressions of life and its shadows in the rear-view mirror of his main protagonist many years hence, Ondaatje creates a poignant picture of faith and forgery. Amid the fluctuating identities of his caretaker, the caretaker’s friend, his father, his mother, his former girlfriend, his neighbour, his colleagues at the government office and the thin-film- like-people who pass by his life, facts and fantasies merge and almost nothing seems to have stood the test of time. One is almost never done with the war because its noxious trail makes deep trenches and doggedly makes re-appearance in the form of post-war military vigilance and intelligence surveillance . The evaluations Nathanial undertakes in the flashback are more pregnant with thoughts than reality, implying the brutal impact of war which drives us towards a wishful ‘what if’ than a morbid ‘what’.
Ondaatje’s writing is luminous and gathers its most gorgeous dazzle when adoring the nerves of quotidian life.
We walked between the white-painted beehives and she produced from her apron pocket a wedge to raise the sodden ribs of wood so we could look into the lower level of the hive, the bees assaulted suddenly by sunlight.
The story is, perhaps, his way of conveying that even the most scarred ones have to carry the infinite (and punishing) body of life on their backs and thus, the least the privileged ones can do is to pause and utter a word of gratitude instead of slurring spurts of venom.
[Image courtesy twitter.com]
Nice review. The only novel of his I read was The English Patient and I would like to read something else. This sounds perfect!