We probably will never know all there is to know about war, and the bravery of some who fought in it.
It’s 1945 and London has been bombed again and again by the Luftwaffe, left is a deplorable state at the conclusion of the war. The city and its residents are reeling and in this tale we meet two young children, Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel. They have been literally deserted by their parents, left in the care of a man, a man they called The Moth, who is shadowy and shady. Their parents have gone off to a position in the Orient and the children are left to lead a life which is lacking in the most basic things that children require. It appears to them that the Moth has a criminal nature and as the story continues, we meet other people who seem to be living within a dream state. They drift in an out of the children’s lives and leave an atmosphere where nothing is clear, all is murky. Nathaniel grows up and in the 1950s, working in a government department, he begins to piece together a world in which nothing is as it was suppose to be.
It is a world of spies, of secrets, of a time where no one trusted anyone and those who worked as spies, covered their tracks for theirs was a world of danger not only to themselves but also to their family. As Nathaniel learns and grows he discovers his mother’s role in the war.
This story is told in two parts, that of a brother and sister abandoned and then later when Nathaniel attempts to piece together the connections, the roles, and the parts that were played by the people who surrounded him especially his mother. It becomes Nathaniel’s story. What is the truth as Nathaniel tries to figure out the complex relationship that ultimately exists between his mother and he?
Told with beautiful prose, this telling is as murky as the life of its characters. “the lost sequence in a life, they say, is the thing we always search out” Nathaniel seeks answers and what he finds is not what he ever expected. There is a darkness, a moodiness to the telling, an oddness that is riveting as warlight is a dark murky light that only partially lights up an area.
MICHAEL ONDAATJE is the author of six previous novels, a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. The English Patient won the Booker Prize; Anil’s Ghost won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Prix Médicis. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto.