Michael Ondaatje is precise. He is precise about facts, details, descriptions, and feelings. His words flow over the reader (or in this case, the listener) like flower petals, caressing us with each word. Alan Cummings's incredibly sensual, sensitive voice presents this story in waves of description ironically more sensitive as the subject becomes cruel and horrifying.
War is never pleasant, and the crimes committed in the telling of this tale --- organized campaigns of murder --- are certainly bitter and nonsensical. Archeologists and anthropologists are brought to Sri Lanka by international human rights groups to ascertain if, when, and how injustices have been wrought on the people here during a time of bitter social strife. Anil Tissera is a forensic anthropologist who discovers a particular skeleton she names "Sailor," and her discovery into his death draws her into tragic circumstances.
The reader is educated in the details of forensic anthropology, from the Roman times to the present. The details are fascinating, such as how the shape of a pelvis will tell if a person was a weaver, or a description of how a scribe's fingers are somewhat deformed by the constant use of a stylus. These are the treasures of Ondaatje. The rich details, the precise factual journeys into foreign lands and times, transform the reader.
Beyond the detail, war, and brutality is the flow of emotion, love, and trust that compels us to read and reread ANIL'S GHOST.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on May 9, 2000