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Poetry Death

A Year of Last Things


by (author) Michael Ondaatje

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2024
Death, Places, Love
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2024
    List Price

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One of the Globe and Mail's most anticipated books of 2024
With A Year of Last Things, acclaimed novelist Michael Ondaatje returns to poetry, where he began his career over fifty years ago, and what a return it is.

Born in Sri Lanka during the Second World War, Ondaatje was sent as a child to school in London, and later moved to Canada. While he has lived here since, these poems reflect the life of a writer, traveller and watcher of the world – describing himself as a “mongrel,” someone born out of diverse cultures. Here, rediscovering the influence of every border crossed, he moves back and forth in time, from a childhood in Sri Lanka to Moliere’s chair during his last stage performance, from icons in Bulgarian churches to the California coast and loved Canadian rivers, merging memory with the present, looking back on a life of displacement and discovery, love and loss. At first sight it is a glittering collection of fragments and memories – but small, intricate pieces of a life are precisely what matter most to Ondaatje. They make an emotional history. As he writes in the opening poem: “Reading the lines he loves / he slips them into a pocket, / wishes to die with his clothes / full of torn free stanzas / and the telephone numbers / of his children in far cities”. Poetry – where language is made to work hardest and burns with a gem-like flame – is what Ondaatje has returned to in this intimate history.

About the author

Michael Ondaatje (born 12 September 1943) is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet of Colombo Chetty and Burgher origin. He is perhaps best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film.

He moved to England in 1954, and in 1962 moved to Canada where he has lived ever since. He was educated at the University of Toronto and Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and began teaching at York University in Toronto in 1971. He published a volume of memoir, entitled Running in the Family, in 1983. His collections of poetry include The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems (1981), which won the Canadian Governor General's Award in 1971; The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems (1989); and Handwriting: Poems (1998). His first novel, Coming Through Slaughter (1976), is a fictional portrait of jazz musician Buddy Bolden. The English Patient (1992), set in Italy at the end of the Second World War, was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1996. Anil's Ghost (2000), set in Sri Lanka, tells The Story of a young female anthropologist investigating war crimes for an international human rights group.

Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto with his wife, Linda Spalding, with whom he edits the literary journal Brick. His new novel is Divisadero (2007).

Michael Ondaatje's profile page

Editorial Reviews

One of the Globe and Mail's most anticipated books of 2024

“The dazzling latest by Ondaatje (The Story) brings his formidable literary gifts and imagination to bear on questions of memory and artistic process. Tenderly plumbing friends, ex-lovers, works of art, and ‘echoing rivers where we lost and found ourselves,’ he writes of ‘all those small recalls of this and that/ before our walk up a staircase into the dark.’ [...] This collection radiates the joy of a fully realized, literary life.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Indeed, there is much here that belongs to us all. A Year of Last Things is a collection that bears multiple and complex readings. Ondaatje’s finest."
Quill & Quire (starred review)

"Each new book of Michael Ondaatje’s is a literary event, but that is particularly true for his books of poetry. In A Year of Last Things he comes close to writing something like a timeless poem, 'a memory poem' that reflects outside and inside time at the same moment, recording the mercurial, mysterious feeling of being alive. The poems become intimate, unresolved stories, loyal to feeling and presence, the lyricism of dreams applied to narratives of lives and landscapes. A Year of Last Things is a remarkable, incomparable new collection."
—Terrance Hayes

"Michael Ondaatje’s love of the world and its wonders, the kindness he offers, the elegant lyricism of his sentences, the joy of storytelling . . . restore belief in the beauty and power of literature and, by extension, of humanity."
—Aleksandar Hemon

"Michael Ondaatje defies the normal distinction between poet and novelist. His writing is consistently turned to a visionary pitch."
—Graham Swift

"My life always stops for a new book by Michael Ondaatje."
—Jhumpa Lahiri

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