by Michael Ondaatje

Knopf, $26.00, 279 pages

The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje, is the newest novel from the author who brought us The English Patient. Full of intrigue and exotica, this coming-of-age story set primarily in the 1950s, is sure to mesmerize. The cast of characters resembles something out of a Fellini film, including a woman who carries pigeons in her pockets, a trio of carnival performers, a shackled prisoner, and eleven-year-old Michael, who is at the center of this dreamy sea journey. The story begins in Ceylon as Michael boards the Oronsay bound for London and charts the passengers’ journey over the course of 21 days, as it is remembered by Michael years later. The title refers to the table where Michael and the other less privileged travelers on board shared their meals. The enigmatic table mates have secrets in their pasts waiting to be revealed. That is, except for Michael and his two young friends, whose futures read like fortune cookies: You will take a long journey; You will meet your future love; Someone you know will die; Some people are not who they seem to be.  The Cat’s Table is beautifully crafted and lyrically written.

Diane Prokop