How does Anil's Ghost engage with the idea of truth?

Anil's Ghost engages with the idea of truth in its characters' inner lives and personal histories by sending its protagonist back to Sri Lanka to uncover the truth of the human costs of the decades-long civil war there. Anil is committed to identifying civilian victims, but she meets hostile resistance to the effort by a truth-denying government seeking to keep the stories of the dead from being told. The novel's characters are all defined by their varying relationships to the truth

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The idea of truth as a motivating force and targeted objective is central to understanding the characters’ inner-lives, through the way they relate to the truth of their own personal cirumstances and of larger recent history. As the title Anil’s Ghost might suggest, the main character’s arc of conflict and redemption winds up being one of self-discovery that transcends her ostensible purpose for her return to Sri Lanka, a UN-sponsored truth and reconciliation project for the victims of the decades-long civil war there. As an impartial truth-seeker, and an outsider despite her Sri-Lankan roots, Anil is committed to "uncovering" the truth of the human costs of a conflict the world has largely ignored. Ondaatje creates conflict for Anil's truth mission early on by presenting her local counterpart Sarath as someone whose motives are not trustworthy, which puts Anil's objective at risk.

Forensics is a discipline applied to science, medicine, law, and finance to sift through the record of information to reconstruct patterns of meaning or significance. A forensic physician like Anil would perform post-mortem procedures on a corpse to determine the cause and time of death and other key details about the deceased to aid in identification or investigation. A legal team might read through reams of emails, phone records or financial transactions in order to extract the facts on which to build their case, and a forensic accountant might be engaged to do the same. In all cases, practitioners of the forensic method are concerned with discovering the truth, so that a coherent narrative or timeline can be established.

For other characters, awareness and acceptance of deeper truth is something to avoid. The physician Gamini is persistently bombarded by the brutal truth of armed conflict and the mortal costs of religious conviction and political ideology taken to their extremes. His character, unlike Anil, has no remove from the violent reality, nor does his single-minded duty to the victims allow him to drink himself to numbness and blindness to the pain and rage like Ananda.

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