Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's new novel The Cat’s Table tells the story of another Michael, who at age 11 makes a three-week sea voyage from Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) to England.

From the author's Q & A with John Geiger in the Globe & Mail:

How did you get the idea of setting the novel on the ship?

I finished Divisadero; I didn’t know what I was going to be doing.

At some point, I mentioned to my kids that I’d gone as an 11-year-old unchaperoned from Sri Lanka to England. They said, “What?” They couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it either. There was supposed to be a guardian I was meant to be with, whom I never met. I had completely forgotten this journey. All I remember is playing Ping-Pong. So I thought, let me see if I can turn this into a fiction.

I began at the beginning, getting on the boat. And from there, it became an adventure. There’s a great line by Ornette Coleman about music: He says you begin with the territory and what follows is the adventure. I think I had the territory. That was the gift I was given. And it was a forgotten gift. I had 50 years to dream it up and improvise off it.

Are the characters in the novel based on your memories?

No, they are simply too vague. I must have had some friends on the boat but I can’t remember what they were like. So Ramadhin and Cassius and Emily and all the other passengers are really inventions. In some ways, Ramadhin and Cassius are ur-types of friends I made over the years at school or wherever it was, the good friend/bad friend thing. That was how...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue