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Michael Ondaatje at the de Young

michael ondaatje, author, readingComing Through Slaughter changed my life.” That is the answer I received from a friend, writer and fan of Michael Ondaatje. To aspiring authors there is no greater admiration. My only experience with Ondaatje thus far had been with the film, The English Patient, based on Ondaatje’s brilliant and harrowing novel of love in the midst of World War II. As is often claimed, the book was better than the movie, an Academy Award-winning Best Picture often described as a masterpiece. Hard to believe, yet Ondaatje proved me wrong. Having written memoirs, books of poetry, and novels, he has proven himself to be an exceptional and versatile writer. And always, beneath the novelist, in the foundations and soul of his writing, lies a poet.

His latest work, Divisadero, tells the story of families torn apart. By this description from guest reviewer Jhumpa Lahiri, Ondaatje ascribes his trademark of taking a story and unfolding the layers and intricacies of life to reveal its true character. “Every sign of the author's genius is here: the searing imagery, the incandescent writing, the calm probing of life's most turbulent and devastating experiences,” explains Jhumpa Lahiri.

I picked up Coming Through Slaughter without expectations. The book, about the mad and talented cornet player, Buddy Bolden, will soon be made into a movie. The novel is told with simplicity and grace. What lies in history is the story of obsession, addiction and seduction in notorious Storyville, New Orleans, and of music by a legendary artist. What emerges is a song.

Ondaatje will read from Divisadero, as well as others work during the de Young poetry series on Friday, March 19, at 7 pm in the Koret Auditorium at the de Young Museum. For more information, click here.

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