In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals."
Great novels have great opening lines. They draw the reader in from the very first sentence. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is no exception.
This fictitious memoir is a coming-of-age tale, a mystery, and an account of a life-long quest to understand the relationship between a son and his mother.
I'm going to have to be opaque in my review to avoid spoilers, but much of the plot is given away in the novel's opening line. It takes the narrator almost half the book to describe all the reasons why he thinks his guardians may have been criminals. The setting is London, just after World War II. The story eventually reveals events from the war itself and before the war, and from years after, but all that has to wait while we are treated to some of the most inventive characters and adventures any teen left alone by his parents has ever experienced.
It takes until the second half of the novel to slowly reveal the basic facts of why the parents left. But in the end, the details of the motives of the parents and the consequent influences on the lives of their children are mostly left for the reader to draw his own conclusions about. Late in the memoir, the narrator says, "There are so many questions I want answered by some version of the truth." In the end, that's what we get. Some version of the truth. That's probably all we ever get in life. In that sense, this work of fiction is the truth.