The tale begins in the early 1950s when an 11-year-old Ceylonese boy boards the Oronsay, which will sail across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, ultimately bound for England. The Oronsay is a floating castle, a world unto itself, with seven levels, nine cooks, a veterinarian, several swimming pools, a jail, and more than 600 passengers. In a voice both haunting and intimate, the boy asks, “What had there been before such a ship in my life?”
The boy is nicknamed Mynah by his shipmates; he has absent parents and thus “no secure map,” and is free to invent himself. For Mynah, the sea voyage marks a kind of second birth, a passage that influences everything significant in his later life. Interwoven with the drama of Mynah’s journey are his experiences and reflections as an adult, where many of the childhood mysteries experienced aboard are unravelled with the benefit of hindsight. Looking back on that time years later, he confides, “I try to imagine who the boy on the ship was…. He went up the gangplank, watching only the path of his feet – nothing ahead of him existed.” The rhythm between past and present, between experience and understanding, creates emotional depth and multiple layers of suspense.
About the Author
Michael Ondaatje, OC, poet, novelist, filmmaker, editor (born 12 Sept 1943 in Colombo, Sri Lanka). Michael Ondaatje's work combines the factual and the imaginary, poetry and prose. His longer narrative works, often based on the unorthodox lives of real people, may contain documentary as well as fictional elements. Ondaatje's imagery is characterized by its preoccupation with multiculturalism; its gravitation towards the bizarre, the exaggerated, and the unlikely; its fascination with the secret codes of violence in both personal and political life; and with its continued delving into the world of movies, jazz and friendship. His work is also notable for its cinematic qualities in its frequent use of montage techniques and its spare dramatic dialogue. A five time winner of the Governor General's Award Ondaatje has also won the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Prix Médicis étranger, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada, making him, along with Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, one of Canada’s most celebrated living authors.