Book - 2018
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In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings' mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn't know and understand in that time, and it is this journey--through facts, recollection, and imagination--that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.
Publisher: Toronto :, McClelland & Stewart,, 2018
Edition: Hardcover edition
ISBN: 9780771073786
Branch Call Number: FIC Ondaa
Characteristics: 289 pages


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Oct 25, 2020

A gentle and fascinating look at post war London, at the ongoing spying activities seen through the eyes of a teenager who has been abandoned by his mother as she keeps fighting this silent and little known of war.

Sep 25, 2020

Karen Lieneke Recommendation

Sep 18, 2020

This is not my usual cup of tea (I'd rather read history than historical novels), but this grabbed me from the start. So much intrigue, so many teasers. It read so well that I even resisted the temptation (rarely resisted!) to peek at the ending. And what an ending. Especially since the town of Gakova is mentioned; it has a tragic role in my family's history.

Aug 06, 2020

One critic says this is his best novel since "The English Patient." Not having read it, I can't speak to that, but this is beautifully written, character-driven fiction.

The narrator/protagonist is a wounded soul whose enigmatic mother abandons him and his sister for four years during World War II. He subsequently seeks to reconstruct his mother's past and heal his fractured psyche, succeeding quite well in the first task but not too much in the second.

This is only a summary and, of course, does not do full justice to the story.

I definitely recommend this.

Jun 06, 2020

Interesting of London life for those that were undercover during the war. And how they were still being sought. Not too compelling.

Dec 23, 2019

A well-researched historical novel, this is a jigsaw puzzle of a book. Another of our "project" books, this appealed to my wife's love of mysteries and to my interest in the historical background. We worked together to understand the hints and to try to understand what sort of person Nathaniel becomes.

Nov 08, 2019


Nov 02, 2019

Ondaatje gives us a nostalgic story lyrically told, about reinterpreting our archived childhood memories from the vantage point of adulthood. It helps when those memories plunk us in the middle of wartime espionage and disrupt our sense of safety and justice.

The story starts gently enough, carefully laying the ground work with a table full of intriguing strangers. In fact, you might wonder where Ondaatje is going with all of this delightful but rambling character description, colored with just a hint of skulduggery. But pay attention. For then we are violently thrust into Part 2, left with scraps of unfinished story and many questions.

Now our story teller, Nathaniel/Stitch Williams, deserted as a child by his parents, finds himself in his late 20s working for the British Intelligence in a minor role. But it is enough. His childhood experiences have left him with the skills he needs to ferret out information from secret archives. Slowly he fills in answers to the mysteries of his childhood. We see with heartbreaking clarity how two world wars sucked people in and destroyed families through three generations in Britain.

Beautifully written and replete with wisdom, this story is as highly recommended as Ondaatje’s earlier tales.

Oct 31, 2019

Post WWII London

Oct 06, 2019

Central question of this novel: When we’re unsure of our own family histories, what kind of faulty narratives do we construct to tell ourselves who we are, who our parents were (or still are) and who we should feel loyal to? I lik e Ondaatje’s writing - he’s a poet & his skill with delivering the one definitive detail about a character reflects not only a poet’s way with words, but a poet’s attention to compression. He delivers a character to us by noting, in one case, the green ribbon she wears in her hair. But I think the promotion of this book partly as a “spy novel” was misleading. If you want a page turner, this book probably is not for you. But if characters interest you more than plot, this is an interesting read. Convoluted in spots, and keeping track of the time frame is sometimes difficult. The author indulges in fascinating digressions (who knew that boat traffic in the canals outside London could be so interesting?) Just expect it to move slowly and you’ll be fine.

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Jan 27, 2019

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Jul 24, 2018

SZorn thinks this title is suitable for 20 years and over


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Oct 18, 2019

"I used often to lie awake/ through the whole night,/ and wish for a large pearl" (274).


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