"‘The journey was to be an innocent story within the small parameter of my youth,’ says the narrator of his voyage aboard the Oronsay, which carried him through the Indian Ocean to England and his divorced mother. But for the eleven-year-old, things shift from the moment he is seated at ‘the cat's table,’ the least propitious spot in the dining room. He enjoys wild escapades with the two other boys at the table, quiet Ramadhin and hell-raiser Cassius, while befriending the mismatched adults at his table as well as his card-playing roommate, who tends the ship’s kennels. Others on board include his older cousin Emily, who takes up with the magnetic head of a performing troupe while protecting a deaf and frail-looking girl named Asuntha, and a heavily chained prisoner. The relationship among these four characters precipitates crisis, but we’re not led to it systematically; instead, Booker Prize-winner Ondaatje flashes forward to the narrator as an adult, showing us how unwittingly we lose our childhood innocence and how that loss comes to affect us much, much later. Writing in a less lyrically wrought style than usual, Ondaatje turns in a quietly enthralling work. Highly recommended."
"This being a novel by the eminently accomplished Ondaatje, you may be certain that the tale will involve some tragedy, some heartache, and some miscommunication --- and, yes, death. It is also beautifully detailed, without a false note: It is easy to imagine, in Ondaatje’s hands, being a passenger in the golden age of transoceanic voyaging, amid a sea of cocktail glasses and overflowing ashtrays, if in this case a setting more worthy of John le Carré than Noël Coward. Ondaatje writes with considerable tenderness of children who are all but abandoned, and at his best he lands squarely in Conrad territory, a place that smells of frankincense and in which ‘clotted clouds speckled the sky’ and sandstorms blow out to sea from distant deserts --- just the sort of place, in other words, that a reader wants to inhabit. Elegiac, mature and nostalgic --- a fine evocation of childhood, and of days irretrievably past."