Thursday, May 31, 2018

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

The year is 1945 in wartime London.  Fourteen year old Nathaniel and his older sister, Rachel, know that this will mean huge changed in their family.  Their parents are going to a posting overseas and they will remain behind, going to school and being supervised by their lodger whom they have nicknamed The Moth. 

The children rebel at living in their schools and soon manage to come home where The Moth's supervision is less than parental. The children discover their mother's luggage in the basement, putting the lie to the fiction of an overseas posting.  The Moth is surrounded by an intriguing cast of characters, most of whom lead shadowy lives.  These become the children's mentors and they accompany them on many tasks, most of which seem to be criminal.  There is no word from their parents and the children start to wonder if there is not something horrible going on that no one wants to tell them.

Years later, Nathaniel looks back on this time as an adult, trying to piece together the facts he knows with what was really happening behind the scenes.  Why did his mother eventually reappear as quickly as she left, still with no explanations and with no mention of his father?  What happened to the Moth?  Why does his mother believe that the children and she are in terrible danger?  As Nathaniel slowly peels back the layers of secrecy that hid the truth from him for years, the events of his life take on a different meaning.

Michael Ondaatje will always be thought of first as the author of The English Patient.  This book has some of the same strengths; a misty remembrance of past events, strong characters, hints of a love that overshadows all else.  It demonstrates without preaching the integral role that parents take in a child's life and the necessity for knowing the truth about the events that make up a life.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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