"The Cat's Table" (Knopf) by Michael Ondaatje. Oct. 7

Not since Katherine Anne Porter's ¿Ship of Fools¿ (1962), perhaps, has an oceangoing vessel been the setting for such an ambitious novel. The new work by Ondaatje, author of "The English Patient" (1992), is set aboard a ship crossing the Indian Ocean in the 1950s. A young boy learns life lessons at the so-called "cat's table," the eating place at the opposite end of the ship's hierarchy from the captain's table.

Not since Katherine Anne Porter's ┬┐Ship of Fools┬┐ (1962), perhaps, has an oceangoing vessel been the setting for such an ambitious novel. The new work by Ondaatje, author of "The English Patient" (1992), is set aboard a ship crossing the Indian Ocean in the 1950s. A young boy learns life lessons at the so-called "cat's table," the eating place at the opposite end of the ship's hierarchy from the captain's table.

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