Lives at Sea

The haunted intimacy of Michael Ondaatje's new novel

It begins with the sharp unreality of a dream. in 1953 an 11-year-old boy is taken to a great ship that will transport him from his native Ceylon to England, 21 days away. On the Orient Line boat, he befriends two kids his age: the artful dodger Cassius and the gentle, slightly clumsy Ramadhin. Around them is a floating house of mysteries: a millionaire heading to England for medical treatment after being bitten by a rabid dog, a sleepwalker who drinks gunpowder tea and keeps pigeons in her pocket, a man with a secret garden (Madagascar periwinkles, black calabashes, Indonesian limes)...

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