‘Now it was warmer and she was opening more rooms, airing the dark reaches, letting sunlight dry all the dampness. Some nights she opened doors and slept in rooms that had walls missing. She lay on the pallet on the very edge of the room, facing the drifting landscape of stars, moving clouds, wakened by the growl of thunder and lightening. She was twenty years old and mad and unconcerned with safety during this time, having no qualms about the dangers of the possibly mined library or the thunder that startled her in the night. She was restless after the cold months, when she had been limited to dark, protected spaces.’

– Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘Four centuries later monks began living again in the caves above what had once been the temple clearing. It had been a long era of humanlessness, religiouslessness. The knowledge of such a monastery had vanished from people’s minds and the site was an abandoned forest sea. What was left of wooden altars was eaten by colonies of insects. Generations of pollen silted the bathing pool and then rough vegetation consumed it, so it was invisible to any passerby who did not know its sudden loose depth, which was a haven for creatures that scurried on the warmth of the cut rock and on unnamed plants in this nocturnal world.

For four hundred years the unheard throat calls of birds. The hum of some medieval bee motoring itself into the air. And in the remnant of the twelfth-century well, under the reflected sky, a twist of something silver in the water.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘She would have turned on a light but she had noticed Ananda never stepped into electrically lit areas. He worked always with flare torches in his room if it was too overcast. As if electricity had betrayed him once and he would not trust it again. Or maybe he was of that generation of battery lovers unaccustomed to official light. Just batteries or fire or moon.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘She walks towards his night tent without a false step or any hesitation. The trees make a sieve of moonlight, as if she is caught within the light of a dance hall’s globe. She enters his tent and puts an ear to his sleeping chest and listens to his beating heart, the way he will listen to a clock on a mine. Two a.m. Everyone is asleep but her.’

– Michale Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘The beauty of the place was subtle. In the south-western deserts you needed to look twice at emptiness, you needed to take your time, the air like ether, where things grew only with difficulty. On the island of her childhood she could spit on the ground and a bush would leap up.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘Every historical pillar he came to in a field he stood beside and embraced as if it were a person he had known in the past. Most of his life he had found history in stones and carvings. In the last few years he had found the hidden histories, intentionally lost, that altered the perspective and knowledge of earlier times. It was how one hid or wrote the truth when it was necessary to lie.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost

‘She could not write to Roman in prison about what she felt for him, about her hunger for him, because he was unable to read. She wished she had taught him, the way she had been taught, so he could escape his solitude, but he had always returned from work exhausted.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘She seemed wise in all things but her acceptance of this man. How easy it was to be caught within another’s personality.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘Roman would put out his hand and she’d hold it with both of hers and he would pull her off the table into the air. He was an older, stronger man, nothing like the boy, and she saw his eyes lost in bitterness and frustration, in a fury about the state of their lives. He would fling a chair into the wall of curtain that divided their one room, and she knew it could just as easily have been her body that was thrown towards that dark corner.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘In spite of her desire for a contained universe, her life felt scattered, full of many small moments, without great purpose. That is what she thought, though what is most untrustworthy about our natures and self-worth is how we differ in our own realities from the way we are see by others… We relive stories and see ourselves only as the watcher or listener, the drummer in the background keeping cadence.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘This is where I learned that sometimes we enter art to hide within it. It is where we can go to save ourselves, where a third-person voice protects us. Just as there is, in the real landscape of Paris in Les Misérables, that small fictional Street Victor Hugo provides for Jean Valjean to slip into, in which to hide from his pursuers.’

– Micahel Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘They already had too much knowledge of him. They’d selected him before he knew of their existence – long before his first sighting of Bridget at Jocko’s. He had never been invisible. And Bridget was there only to bring him to Tahoe, with the crook of her finger, with a swirl from her sea-green skirt. He saw another version of their romance, where the only thing being gratified and comforted was him, not her. He saw himself in the frame, surrounded by the con.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘He can almost see the clearing in the forest where they took her that morning. They slipped her into the ground within three hours, so she lived the briefest death on the earth, as if earth were a boat that forced a quick embarkation. They had brought her back to the landscape she was most fond of. It was about five in the morning, and the bird life was wild around them, as if it was his mother’s leaving.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘How we are almost nothing. We think, in our youth, we are the centre of the universe, but we simply respond, go this way or that by accident, survive or improve by the luck of the draw, with little choice of determination on our part.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘There were a few pictures taken of him, but these seemed preoccupied with texture and light. And there were some abstract reflections of him in a window, or of his shadow on the grass or on the flank of an animal. How many things could you throw your image against?’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘There was a purple flower in February called shooting star. There were the sticks of willow that Coop cut down and strapped onto my broken wrist before he drove me to the hospital. I was fourteen then. He was eighteen. Everything is biological, Lucian Freud says. What we make, why it is made, how we draw a dog, who it is we are drawn to, why we cannot forget. Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border we cross.’

– Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

‘He thinks her remarkable. He wakes and sees her in the spray of the lamp. He loves most her face’s smart look. Or in the evenings he loves her voice as she argues Caravaggio out of a foolishness. And the way she crawls in against his body like a saint.’

– Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘She loves most the wet colours of his neck when he bathes. And his chest with its sweat which her fingers grip when he is over her, and the dark, tough arms in the darkness of his tent, or one time in her room when light from the valley’s city, finally free of curfew, rose among them like twilight and lit the colour of his body.’

– Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘Nurses too became shell-shocked from the dying around them. Or from something as small as a letter. They would carry a severed arm down a hall, or swab at blood that never stopped, as if the wound were a well, and they began to believe in nothing, trusted nothing. They broke the way a man dismantling a mine broke the second his geography exploded. The way Hana broke in Santa Chiara Hospital when an official walked down the space between a hundred beds and gave her a letter that told her of the death of her father.’

– Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient