Anil's Ghost
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"Anil's Ghost" Characters Analysis

By Michael Ondaatje

fiction | 320 pages | Published in 2011

A breathtaking novel about love and the horrors of civil war from the bestselling author of The English Patient. 'There is much to astonish, to disturb and to admire in this book... A rare triumph' Guardian Anil's Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of a bloody civil war. Enter Anil Tissera, a young woman and forensic anthropologist born in Sri Lanka but educated in the West, sent by an international human rights group to identify the victims of the murder campaigns sweeping the island. When Anil discovers that the bones found in an ancient burial site are in fact those of a much more recent victim, her search for the terrible truth hidden in her homeland begins. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity - a story driven by a riveting mystery.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
Anil TisseraProtagonist, Forensic Anthropologist
Sarath DiyasenaArchaeologist
Sarath's ParentsMinor Characters
SanjayaArcheological Field Assistant
Gamini's WifeMinor Character
Gamini's DaughterMinor Character
Sarath's SisterMinor Character

Role Identification

Anil Tissera

Anil Tissera serves as the protagonist of the novel "Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje. She is a forensic anthropologist of Sri Lankan descent who returns to her homeland to investigate and document human rights abuses.

Sarath Diyasena

Sarath Diyasena is an archaeologist whom Anil collaborates with during her investigation. He represents the struggle of maintaining personal integrity and navigating political complexities.

Sarath's Parents

Sarath's parents are minor characters who appear in the book. Their presence highlights the generational divide between the older generation's struggles within Sri Lanka and the younger generation's exploration of cultural identity.


Palipana is an archaeologist who provides Anil with important information regarding the history and artifacts of Sri Lanka. He contributes to the historical context of the narrative.


Gamini is an archaeologist who works alongside Sarath and Palipana. He becomes a victim of the political unrest in Sri Lanka, showcasing the dangerous circumstances faced by those who challenge the authorities.


Ananda is another archaeologist who assists Anil and Sarath. His role adds depth to the group dynamics and reveals their shared dedication to uncovering the truth.


Sanjaya serves as an archaeological field assistant. While a minor character, he aids Anil in her investigation, exemplifying the supportive roles required for successful research.

Gamini's Wife

Gamini's wife is a minor character who highlights the family dynamics affected by the political turmoil in Sri Lanka. Her presence highlights the impact of the events on personal lives.

Gamini's Daughter

Gamini's daughter is a minor character who represents the consequences of the political unrest on the younger generation, illustrating how they become innocent victims of the conflict.

Sarath's Sister

Sarath's sister is a minor character who symbolizes the ordinary lives disrupted by the political turmoil in Sri Lanka. Her presence emphasizes the broader impact on families and communities.

Character Descriptions

Anil Tissera

Anil Tissera is a determined and intelligent forensic anthropologist. She is described as having a strong sense of justice and a profound dedication to uncovering the truth behind human rights abuses. Her profession requires a meticulous and analytical mind, and she showcases these traits as she investigates the remains of victims to unveil their identities and stories.

Sarath Diyasena

Sarath Diyasena is an archaeologist who initially appears passive and lost in his own personal struggles. He carries the weight of his family's past and the political tensions within Sri Lanka. Throughout the novel, Sarath undergoes a transformation, finding his purpose and reclaiming his agency. He grows from being hesitant to becoming an active participant in the pursuit of justice.

Palipana, Gamini, Ananda, Sanjaya

These characters represent the collective effort of the wider community involved in archaeological work in Sri Lanka. Palipana, Gamini, Ananda, and Sanjaya possess varying levels of expertise and share a dedication to preserving their country's history. They provide important insights into the challenges faced by professionals working within political unrest.

Gamini's Wife, Gamini's Daughter, Sarath's Sister

These minor characters embody the human cost of the political conflict in Sri Lanka. Gamini's wife and daughter illustrate the tragedy faced by families torn apart, while Sarath's sister represents the impact on everyday lives disrupted by violence and unrest.

Character Traits

Anil Tissera

  • Determined
  • Intelligent
  • Analytical
  • Just
  • Brave

Sarath Diyasena

  • Conscientious
  • Conflicted
  • Transformative
  • Compassionate
  • Strong-willed

Palipana, Gamini, Ananda, Sanjaya

  • Knowledgeable
  • Dedicated
  • Resilient
  • Collaborative
  • Curious

Gamini's Wife, Gamini's Daughter, Sarath's Sister

  • Resilient
  • Suffering
  • Tragic
  • Ordinary

Character Background

Anil Tissera

Anil Tissera grew up in Sri Lanka but left the country to pursue her education and career abroad. She becomes a respected forensic anthropologist well-versed in identifying victims of human rights violations.

Sarath Diyasena

Sarath Diyasena was born and raised in Sri Lanka. He comes from a politically active family that suffered under the oppressive government, leading to his father's disappearance. Sarath follows his passion for archaeology despite the challenges and dangers faced by those investigating Sri Lanka's past.

Palipana, Gamini, Ananda, Sanjaya

These characters are archaeologists who dedicate their lives to unearthing and preserving the history and culture of Sri Lanka. They have different backgrounds and areas of expertise but share a common goal.

Character Arcs

Anil Tissera

As the protagonist, Anil undergoes a personal and professional transformation throughout the novel. Her journey begins with her return to Sri Lanka, where she faces resistance and danger while uncovering the truth behind human rights abuses. Anil's arc is one of resilience, self-discovery, and a commitment to fighting for justice.

Sarath Diyasena

Sarath's character arc is significant; he starts as a withdrawn and passive individual who immerses himself in his work to escape his personal struggles. However, as he collaborates with Anil and becomes more involved in the investigation, Sarath's arc involves finding his voice, confronting his past, and actively contributing to the pursuit of justice.


Anil Tissera and Sarath Diyasena

Anil and Sarath's relationship serves as the central connection in "Anil's Ghost." They initially have a professional partnership, but as they navigate the challenging landscape of human rights abuses, their relationship deepens. They develop mutual respect, trust, and a shared determination to uncover the truth.

Anil Tissera and Gamini

Anil's interactions with Gamini highlight the personal connections and shared experiences among those working within the field of archaeology in Sri Lanka. Gamini's fate acts as a catalyst for Anil's determination to find justice.

Sarath Diyasena and Palipana

Sarath's relationship with Palipana showcases mentorship and the passing down of knowledge. Palipana provides guidance and information to Sarath as they work together to uncover the truth.

In conclusion, the various characters in "Anil's Ghost" contribute to the multi-dimensional exploration of Sri Lanka's political climate, history, and personal struggles. Their distinct traits, backgrounds, arcs, and relationships create a rich tapestry of individuals united in their pursuit of justice and preservation of cultural heritage.