21+ quotes from Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Quotes from Divisadero

Michael Ondaatje ·  273 pages

Rating: (9.6K votes)


“...sometimes we enter art to hide within it. It is where we can go to save ourselves, where a third-person voice protects us.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from 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 or determination on our part.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“As if this collection of things is what she is. So we fall in love with ghosts.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“I was fourteen then. He was eighteen. Everything is biographical, Lucien 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 that we cross.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from 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 differe in our own realities from the way we are seen by others.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“I love the performance of a craft, whether it is modest or mean-spirited, yet I walk away when discussions of it begin - as if one should ask a gravedigger what brand of shovel he uses or whether he prefers to work at noon or in moonlight. I am interested only in the care taken, and those secret rehearsals behind it. Even if I do not understand fully what is taking place. ”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“He turns his back to the far shore and rows toward it. He can in this way travel away from, yet still see, his house....he feels he is riding a floating skeleton...Some birds in the almost-dark are flying as close to their reflections as possible.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“And as the music ended, he saw her, like a woman in a romance, pull from her cotton sleeve a note that she pushed into his breast pocket. It would burn there unread for another hour as he danced and talked with in-laws who did not matter to him, who got in the way, whose bloodline connection to him or his wife he could not care less about. Everything that was important to him existed suddenly in the potency of Marie-Neige. He could tell what the shallow freize of the wedding party that surrounded them would continue to be, and yet the one he knew best-he could not conceive how she would behave or respond to him in a week, or even in an hour. She had stepped into more than his arms for a dance, had waited for the precise seconds so it was possible and socially forgivable-the sunlit wedding procession, the eternal meal-and she had passed him a billet-doux as if they were within a Dumas. The note she had written said 'Good-bye.' Then it said 'Hello.' And then it reminded him that 'A message sent by pigeon to The Hague can sometimes change everything.' She had, like one of those partially villainous and always evolving heroines, turned his heart over on the wrong day.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“...if you do not plunder the past, the absence feeds on you”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“...those who had risked everything at a riverbend on a left turn and so discovered a fortune.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“All my life I have loved travelling at night, with a companion, each of us discussing and sharing the known and familiar behaviour of the other. It’s like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle’s form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those familiar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts, Nabokov said. So the strange form of that belfry, turning onto itself again and again, felt familiar to me. For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“And he loved my mother. I saw him on the last days of his life lift that oil-scented right hand and enter its fingers into her ordered hair and rustle it free of its pins as if he had been offered velvet or the fur of a rare animal. Forever I hold that gesture. For me it was perhaps the last remembered pleasure belonging to him. It is the unspoiled core of whatever I know of love and family (and I have not been successful at the craft of it). Our shyness at embracing each other - it rarely happened - did not matter. I felt safe and comforted in his house.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“We have art,’ Nietzsche said, ‘so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“I come from Divisadero Street. Divisadero, from the Spanish word for ‘division,’ the street that at one time was the dividing line between San Francisco and the fields of the Presidio. Or it might be derived from the word divisar, meaning ‘to gaze at something from a distance.’ (There is a ‘height’ nearby called El Divisadero.) Thus a point from which you can look far into the distance”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“Marie-Neige was on the shore, near the light, a tin outline. She lifted the lamp above her head and called out his name and he said Yes and she turned. She could see the ribs on his body as he came into more and more light. She placed the lamp on the grass and picked up her cotton dress and began drying her hair, so it was no longer plastered around her face, then came nearer to him and rubbed his hair dry with the dress. So now they looked as they did in a room, or across a table, no longer appearing as strangers to each other. On his knees, behind her, he pulled her thighs back to him in a slow rocking, as if he wanted her now to search for him, the heat of her cave onto his coldness, missing each other, and she said his name again and he moved into her, her softness and the unknown warmth.
How many stories were read between them in which they had discovered the codes of eventual love and said nothing in their shyness. She’d barely been touched by him—his cupped hands once on her shoulders, his hard grip when she pulled the splinter out of his eye, his holding her small hands across a table. It was as if they had both known what all this would be like, these doorways and reflections of each other, this cautious modesty and the secrets of herself she had hidden from others. All that witnessed them was a lamp in the grass. She moved back onto his lap so she could control their movement, slow him into more intimacy, so his hands could hold the quiver in her stomach and there could be an equal pleasure. They heard nothing, not the sterile thunder or the mock of the bird or the million insects carelessly yelling. Just their breath, as if they were dying beside each other.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“She had stepped into more than his arms for a dance, had waited for the precise seconds so it was possible and socially forgivable—the sunlit wedding procession, the eternal meal—and she had passed him a billet-doux as if they were within a Dumas. The note she had written said Good-bye. Then it said Hello. And then it reminded him that A message sent by pigeon to The Hague can sometimes change everything. She had, like one of those partially villainous and always evolving heroines, turned his heart over on the wrong day.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“Could you waste your life on a gift? If you did not use your gift, was it a betrayal?”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“All over the world there must be people like us, Anna had said then, wounded in some way by falling in love - seemingly the most natural of acts.”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


“We are all the people we have ever known. We carry them for the rest of our lives, across every border we cross”
― Michael Ondaatje, quote from Divisadero


About the author

Michael Ondaatje
Born place: in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Born date September 12, 1943
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