A ship through the Suez

“What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power.” The 11-year-old narrator—who is placed on a ship for a journey that will take him across the Indian Ocean, several seas and through the Suez Canal to meet his mother in England—certainly appears to have no power. He does, however, meet a disparate group of travelers in Michael Ondaatje’s sixth novel, The Cat’s Table, including Ramadhin and Cassius, two boys with whom he’ll explore the ship’s secret places. Also travelling on the Oronsay are a botanist transporting a garden, Miss Lasqueti with her 20 or 30 pigeons (who may not be what she seems to be), circus performers and a violinist. A series of experiences on the three-week journey that rival those faced by Candide include Michael and Cassius riding out a major storm while tied to the ship’s deck.