Archaic literature needs translators, compelling authors and characters, to engage us. To touch our spirit, inspire our intellect, craft bridges between the Old World and ours, remind us of lessons learned in war and in peace. Michael Ondaatje’s remarkable gift for language and understanding of longing, passion, fear, betrayal and obsession – and their complicated relationship with diplomacy, governance – is unparalleled. Today marks his sixty-eighth birthday.
My favorite passage from Ondaatje’s exquisite repertoire:
“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.
I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.” — from The English Patient