Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interlude: reading: 'Divisadero' by Michael Ondaatje

I'm reading the novel "Divisadero" by Michael Ondaatje, and enjoying it pretty much while being annoyed by a few of his choices. It's about two sisters and a farm hand, a few years older, whom they grow up with in an impossibly bucolic setting in Marin County. The first part of the book is this pastorale, and the rest is about their mostly separate lives as adults.

The thing I want to talk about is this: one of the sisters becomes a literary historian who is researching the life of a French poet named Lucien Segura, whose life and surroundings the author describes in evocative detail, so much so that I searched on the internet to see who this Segura was -- and he turned out to be an entirely made-up person. I thought that was a strange choice, why make up a writer for your character to research when there are so many real writers whose life and work you can bring to life? But fine, just one choice I disagree with.

But then not thirty pages later the book describes the adult life of the other sister, who has gone to work as a researcher for the San Francisco Public Defender's office, for a lawyer named Aldo Vea. And this is a real person! -- Alfredo Véa, who also wrote a very interesting novel entitled Gods Go Begging. And from the description in "Divisadero," it's crystal-clear that Ondaatje is describing the very same Alfredo Véa.

So he makes up one person but uses another very identifiable real one! I just can't get over it.

But I don't want to over-emphasize what I don't like about the book. The language is carefully crafted and the story is drawing me along. It's clear the author -- with no connection to California I know of -- intensely researched the history and geography of northern and central California, among other things. In this one book he gives Joan Didion (born and raised in the Sacramento delta) a run for her money. This aspect of the book alone is impressive.

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