A three-week voyage across the Indian Ocean from Ceylon to London lies at the center of Michael Ondaatje’s novel, The Cat’s Table (Knopf, $26). The title refers to the table farthest away, in physical distance and therefore in social standing, from the captain’s table. One of that table’s regulars is eleven-year-old Michael, who, with his two friends Cassius and Ramadhin, has the adventure of his young life. Whether spying on other passengers, doing the ignominious bidding of eccentric adults, or being shown the mysterious realm below decks, the three find the journey a priceless education. Later, looking back from the vantage point of adulthood, Michael and his friends see that the relationships formed and the experiences shared on the voyage have left an indelible impression on all of them. Ondaatje captures the freedom and brightness of adolescence and brilliantly contrasts them with the responsibilities that come with adulthood.
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