Book Review – Anil’s Ghost

Ondaatje, Michael
Vintage, 2001

Anil left Sri Lanka as an upper class student to travel abroad for her education, and after her parents died in a car wreck while she was away she carried on her education and career as a forensic examiner in the United States and Europe. Selected by the UN to be an international investigator of potential human rights abuses, she returned to Sri Lanka after 15 years. This, in general, is the starting point of an incredible story of one missing person tying together past and future while providing a groundwork on which to display the cost of integrity in the midst of strife.

Anil and her partner, an archeological authority in the Sri Lankan government, are given the task of trying to use uncovered remains of “those who went missing” to piece together if the various reports of torture and murder which made their way out of the country were founded.

Taking a specific interest in one of the skeletons they uncover, Anil starts to try and find out who it was – going to the effort of analyzing the traces of minerals in the bones to identify where he we from, and then hiring a local artist to do a clay reconstruction of the skull and taking it from village to village in search of an ID. The closer they get, the more obstacles arise, and eventually Anil feels that she can trust no one aside from her partner, who had left on a two day errand and after six days had not returned. She calls the one person who she thinks can help, and on her return finds that the situation has drastically changed. She finds her partner, who upbrades her for not staying where she was, and then is forced to report to a government audience without her primary evidence and with no preparation.

As she makes the connections between the case she had followed and government involvement, the room turns hostile and her partner is forced to discredit her in order to ensure her safety – then arrange for her to leave the country early the next morning.

He is not so fortunate.

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