The Cat's Table
Alfred A. Knopf: 269 pp., $26
Michael Ondaatje is a quiet writer. He's certainly equal to grand, sweeping, historical subjects — civil war in Sri Lanka, the closing days of World War II — but the sound of advancing armies doesn't roar in his reader's ears. Instead, there's a stillness in which his characters examine their own private crises more than the chaos of battle scenes. (Which is why Anthony Minghella's 1996 movie of "The English Patient," with its epic, David O. Selznick-sized treatment, might have misled some people into assuming things about Ondaatje's storytelling that...