Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Running in the Family” as Want to Read:
Running in the Family
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Running in the Family

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  5,957 Ratings  ·  496 Reviews
In the late 1970s Ondaatje returned to his native island of Sri Lanka. As he records his journey through the drug-like heat and intoxicating fragrances of that "pendant off the ear of India, " Ondaatje simultaneously retraces the baroque mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family. An inspired travel narrative and family memoir by an exceptional writer.
Paperback, 206 pages
Published 1984 by Picador (first published 1982)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Running in the Family, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Running in the Family

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Claudia f. Savage
Dear Mr. Ondaatje,
You've got to stop writing such powerful, sexy books. You make me want to abandon everything and move to Ceylon. I have a terrible problem with mosquitoes. And, frankly, I become rather crazy in the heat. But, ohhhh, how you seduce. Grandmothers dying in floods, the drinking, the dancing, the sheer cliffs, the friendly snakes that might be your father. I want to hang out in the verdant fields with you and your family. I've never before found mine so ordinary.
Nov 28, 2015 Sophia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
these 203 pages were some of the longest 203 pages i have ever read. the writing is lyrical (albeit sometimes very confusing) and there are some particularly shining vignettes, but other parts, i really had to shoulder through.
Apr 17, 2010 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travels
Ondaatje’s family is as mythically crazy as Garcia-Marquez’s fictional Buendia clan. His father in particular—an epic binger, gin hole, naked hijacker of trains, and participant in elaborate, picturesque feuds:

And there was Lalla too, like a bee attracted to the perfume of any flower, who came up every other week solely to ransack the garden and who departed with a car full of sprigs and branches. With hardly any room to move or stretch, she rode back to Colombo, still as a corpse in a flower-pa
Jan 02, 2017 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I infinitely preferred this book, by turns laugh out loud funny, and heartbreaking, to any of Ondaatje's novels that I've read. The book is definitely fragmentary, and perhaps that keeps it feeling light, even though the prose (and poetry!) is first-rate and the subject matter often quite dark. In any event, as Ondaatje takes on his journey of re-discovery of family and place in Sri Lanka, he has a deftness and a randomness that his (to me) overly determined novels sometimes lack. A voice you co ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 07, 2009 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 500 Must Read Books (Memoir)
Shelves: 501, memoirs
What a nice break from reading so many fiction books! This lyrical memoir of Michael Ondaatje is a must read of those who read and did not like his Booker-award winning novel The English Patient. In this book, I agree with Margaret Atwood said that he (Mr. Ondaatje) is at his agile and evocative best. This book is brightly colored, sweet and painful and legend-like. If you still doubt that Mr. Ondaatje is a gifted writer, read this memoir. Reading him here is akin to St. Thomas touching the Holy ...more
I am not a good person to judge this book. I do not like short stories or books composed of vignettes. That is exactly what this book is. You do end up learning about Ondaatje' family, beginning with his grandparent s and ending with his parents. You do not learn much about Michael. The depiction of lush, verdant Ceylon, the changing landscapes, the valleys and mountains is captivating. But I was clearly having a hard time with the form of the chapters. There are chapters of poetry; they do not ...more
Nov 01, 2007 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There were so many great elements in this book--exotic setting, interesting characters, dramatic events, poetic language (although the sections in verse seemed sort of, well, bad)--and yet somehow I could never get excited about it. Maybe something about the lack of...dramatic arc in the present narrative? I don't know. Maybe it was great. Maybe it was my fault. I just couldn't dance to it.
Ryan Faulkner
Jul 12, 2007 Ryan Faulkner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humans
rather than reviewing this book, i'll just transcribe a passage that should convince you pretty soundly:

"you must get this book right," my brother tells me. "you can only write it once." but the book again is incomplete. in the end, all your children move among the scattered acts and memories with no more clues. not that we have ever thought we would be able to fully understand you. love is often enough, towards your stadium of small things. whatever brought you solace we would have applauded. w
Mar 25, 2008 Tawny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tawny by: Dr. Keith Lawrence
Shelves: memoir
Favorite lines:
1. "During certain hours, at certain years in our lives, we see ourselves as remnants from the earlier generations that were destroyed."
2. "No story is ever told just once."
3. "There is so much to know and we can only guess. Guess around him. To know him from these stray actions I am told about by those who loved him. And yet, he is still one of those books we long to read whose pages remain uncut."
Kasa Cotugno
Even though I read this almost 20 years ago, I remember it as being one of the best family histories I ever read. Hilarious in parts, and along with Cat's Table which was written much later, provides insights into one of my favorite authors.
Jun 21, 2017 Praxedes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ondaatje's memoir about growing up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) is filled with vivid, lush imagery.

Too bad his family stories are so uninteresting! Boring tales of drunk fathers, cantankerous grandmothers, and subdued siblings were made bearable by the author's writing skill.

Just not bearable enough to recommend this tome to others.
Mar 12, 2011 Monica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1982
***Some may say that this review contains spoilers but since nothing really happened in this book (wait, was that a "spoiler"?) it is hard to say what a "spoiler" for this book is.

Ok. ok. I get it. Your dad was a drunk. But remember when he did that really funny thing? or not? Remember when he was so kind? or when he wasn't? Remember how intelligent he was? Or that really dumb thing he did? How horrible. How wonderful!

Ok. ok. I get it. Your mom is amazing. Except when she did that not so amazing
Debapriya Nag
Feb 07, 2013 Debapriya Nag rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is seemingly undeveloped and unfinished; like a draft for a novel later. But don't let that fool you. You need to pick up a copy and read this book because its beauty lies in its irregularity and simplicity. It is disjointed and follows a post modern style. Sometimes there are poems and stories and sometimes just pictures and conversations but all dealing with Ondaatje's family and his early life in Sri Lanka. This memoir will shock you and make you laugh but all the while, you cant st ...more
A lovely tease of a book. Part memoir and part atmospheric poetry, each chapter hints at an event or anecdote from Ontdaaje's ancestors' lives in Sri Lanka. Generations of expats and patriots come and go, shown to the reader in brief glimpses and short chapters of prose or poetry. The writing is, as always, lyrical, evokative, clever and beautiful, but at the end I found I wanted more. Gorgeous hints at abiding and neurotic family dynamics that skim across the surface of a deeper story. Sometime ...more
Sep 01, 2009 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I find myself weary of the eighteen different books I've started reading and left sitting somewhere around my house, and I wonder if I'll ever finish reading any of them. In such times, I'll pick up a book by Michael Ondaatje and read it in two days. He is an angel, and his books have the flash & magnificence & abundance of the heavens.
Feb 09, 2012 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Another piece that I was required to read for my advanced nonfiction writing class. It was very different from the others (Maya Angelou and Geoffrey Wolff) in topic, writing style, and flow.

Running in the Family was difficult to read and dive into, at first. The writing style is disjointed and the timeline of the narrative jumbles and hops around. Within each section of chapters, the paragraph could begin with a story about the narrator's grandmother, and end with paddies and riding on trains. H
Dec 29, 2007 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though I've written five memoirs and reviewed countless more, I'm not sure there's one that keeps bringing me back and back like Running in the Family. The opening page alone is worth the price of the book.
Feb 01, 2017 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
ok this is the most random and aimless collection of stories about the most frivolous events and unnecessary characters that I have ever encountered.
May 16, 2010 Lindsey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last time I was so thoroughly bored and disinterested while reading a book. Thank goodness it was only 200 pages because I always finish a book once started. I read reviews praising the language and imagery but I found it jumpy and confusing and since it's not told in chronological order I couldn't keep all the family members and friends straight. Thank goodness for the antics of Lalla his grandmother as she was the only character I found interesting. I was confused by what ...more
Patricia Murphy
Dec 26, 2011 Patricia Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Another non-linear narrative here, a memoir that uses "memory" as an organizing structure (not forward action). The author mines memory: not only his own. I enjoyed it. Lots of beautiful sentences. Lots of metaphors. Lots of descriptions I wish I had written.

I keep counting the children, keep feeling I am missing one.

I am the foreigner. I am the prodigal who hates the foreigner.

Sweat runs with its own tangible life down a body as if a giant egg has been broken onto our shoulders.

We own the cou
Julie Christine
Nov 21, 2008 Julie Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ondaatje fans
An elegant series of portraits from Ondaatje crafted after visits to his childhood home of Ceylon (still Ceylon when he penned this in the early 80's). His colorful, troubled, exuberant family - Dutch, Sinhalese, Tamil- lived vivid llives in the early decades of the 20th century. Ceylon is as much of a character as any aunt, uncle, parent, sibling- seething with damp heat and swaying in lush, green waves of water and foliage. Ondaatje's memories and re-creation of events is loving and bemused, p ...more
Samuel Breed
Mar 31, 2008 Samuel Breed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In it's entirety:

"Memory and Texture in Running in the Family"

N.B.: This hasn't been proofread

Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family chronicles the history of a family in an unfamiliar land. To most readers of English, the names and places in Running in the Family will be unfamiliar, as good as fantasy—it might as well be Narnia or Middle Earth. This unfamiliarity dissipates slowly through the course of the novel, as the places and names become familiar, and the rich texture of the foreign lan
Kevin Revolinski
Apr 27, 2017 Kevin Revolinski rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As usual, just amazing writing, moments of rich poetry. This is somewhere between family memoir and poetry and fiction. So many places where I stopped and re-read a sentence just to appreciate his craft. His family, especially his father, was quite fascinating and wonders where reality and the retold stories from others' memories overlap.
Anna Bratchford
There is something very magical about the way that Ondaatje writes. It really draws you in, blurring the lines between what is real and what you know must have some ties to fiction.

I was very easily caught up in Ondaatje's world which made me love this book even more. There is a beautiful poetry to his writing as well, which I could read for days and days. I honestly can't fault it.

This was an absolute pleasure to read!
Tundra Morscheck
Jun 30, 2017 Tundra Morscheck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt like I was sitting with the author and his family meandering through stories and piecing together his family history. The heady 20's, the depression and beyond through all the highs and lows. It had laugh out loud moments but also a sense of sadness brought about by the destructive repercussions of alcoholism. I particularly enjoyed the story about cobras and ping pong balls.
Wonderful memoir and family history in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) where the talented author and poet grew up until age 11, when he moved to Toronto in 1962. The family had Dutch colonial roots from the 17th century, with a blending with Tamil and Sinhalese over the centuries. The narrative is a lovely blend of evocation of Michael's young life on a tea plantation and a reconstruction of the history and experiences of his grandparents and parents from the 1920's.

The life was mostly that of the privilege
May 03, 2014 Wei-Ling rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
To the extent that Michael Ondaatje’s fiction is informed by autobiography, this is his family’s autobiography informed by fiction. Ondaatje understands that every story told us by and about our family is only half true; the rest is re-telling, half-lies, fiction. In the first chapters, Ondaatje re-imagines the heady, romanticized days of upper-class, 1920s Ceylon during the time of his parents’ courtship—days full of drunkenness, moonlit dancing and swimming, brawling, horse races and affairs. ...more
Nov 23, 2016 laRose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
reading this was quite laborious. it is no doubt beautifully written - the writing itself was easy enough to follow. the characters, grandiose + interesting. still, it took a lot of effort to read. i think it's the way the story, actually, stories, are told. i couldn't quite grasp it. particular portions of it stood out to me & i found myself backtracking to re-read them, over & over, just because. otherwise, i couldn't get as close to the book as i would have liked. although, i do feel ...more
Patrick McCoy
Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running In The Family is an unusual book. It isn’t a classic narrative; there are little episodes about his family, reports of his return to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the 70s, poems, and other anomalies. This book first came to my attention through Nick Hornby’s inspiring column in The Believer magazine called What I’m Reading. It’s really a quirky little book, but entertaining, heartfelt, and informative. He had a very colorful family. His father was an alcoholic who used ...more
Allegra S
If there was an award for best opening page of a book, this one would win hands down. "Half a page and the morning is already ancient."

This book reads less like a novel and more like a series of short stories and poems about the collected histories of Michael Ondaatje's family. It seems like he wrote it more as a personal journey for himself and his family. It took me quite a long time to read the whole book because after awhile there is a lot of discontinuity, with nothing driving the story for
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Ways of Escape
  • I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory
  • The Diary of Alice James
  • Brief Lives
  • Fierce Attachments: A Memoir
  • Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives
  • In the Castle of My Skin
  • Wolf Willow
  • Journals, 1889-1949
  • Firebird
  • The Giniralla Conspiracy ; Five Journals of Sujatha Mallika
  • Father and Son
  • Stop-Time
  • The Weight of Oranges / Miners Pond / Skin Divers: Poems
  • The Duke of Deception
  • A Childhood: The Biography of a Place
  • French Lessons: A Memoir
  • The Blessing: A Memoir
He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
More about Michael Ondaatje...

Share This Book

“There are stories of elopements, unrequited love, family feuds and exhausting vendettas, which everyone was drawn into, had to be involved with. But nothing is said of the closeness between two people: how they grew in the shade of each other's presence. No one speaks of that exchange of gift and character - the way a person took on and recognized in himself the smile of a lover...

Where is the intimate and truthful in all this? Teenager and Uncle. Husband and lover. A lost father in his solace. And why do I want to know of this privacy? After the cups of tea, coffee, public conversations ... I want to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, want to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover. ”
“all this Beethoven and rain” 28 likes
More quotes…