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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  4,789 ratings  ·  391 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

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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.
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
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
K.D. Absolutely
Jun 10, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.
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
Debapriya Nag
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
Apr 04, 2008 Tawny rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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."
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.
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
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.
2.5 stars. I read The English Patient many years ago and loved it. I did not love this book. It had some very evocative moments, but overall I was bored.

A friend of mine grew up in then Ceylon and her descriptions of its beauty and ambience, gave me a desire to see this gem of an Island. I had high hopes for this book, but it fell short for me.

Running in the Family is a book of memories of the Ondaatje family, of Michael's Grandparents and Parents. The impression I got from this book was that t
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
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
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
Samuel Breed
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
***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
Allegra Hailey Green
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
Ryan Faulkner
Jul 12, 2007 Ryan Faulkner rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
As an English major I was often asked, when people used to ask me such things, "who is your favorite author?". For many years after I graduated I told people Michael Ondaatje and that my favorite book was The English Patient by him. I first read this memoir by him and I enjoyed the luscious writing style so much that I read more. So this book has been sitting on my shelf for years. I pulled it out again and enjoyed taking time to savor it again.

Another reason to love this book is the chance to v
Ryan Grail
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje is one of the more unique novels I have read because it is literary nonfiction. In the novel, Ondaatje traces back to his roots in Sri Lanka, the "tear drop of India," and the family relationships (mostly family problems) he had. As a writer, I especially enjoyed reading the poems Ondaatje put into his novel to explain, artistically and literary, different aspects of his family's life. The novel, in places, was difficult to understand because Ondaatje's ...more
Patricia Murphy
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
Andres Eguiguren
This was my second time to read this memoir and travelogue by the Sri Lankan-born Ondaatje. The first time I read it was probably at least some 15 or 16 years ago, so I had forgotten many of the details though I recollected greatly enjoying it upon first reading it. At the center of these recollections are his portraits of his eccentric grandmother Lala and his alcoholic father. In turns comic and sad, it gives an interesting glimpse of Sri Lanka in the 1930s and 1940s, but it is really as much ...more
I love this book. It's one the the novels I keep on the top shelf, my treasure. I've read it twice and looking forward to the third time. It's the kind of book that if you put it down without marking where you were, you'd never remember where you were. It's dense and in the moment. It is really a series of stories that relate to events in Michael Ondaatje's life in Ceylon. But you fall into the flow of the storytelling. It's the kind of story telling that is akin to sitting around with your rela ...more
Luanne Castle
The style of this book is quite different from other memoirs. The cover of my book has a blurb by Maxine Hong Kingston which calls what is inside the book “a truly magical world.” Since Kingston created her own magical worlds in The Woman Warrior and China Men, she’s a good judge of that. But Ondaatje’s book is not as tied to narrative as books by Kingston. In fact, the book has a few poems threaded throughout–and much of the prose moves beyond the lyrical to the truly poetic.

The book is very be
Running in the Family is a memoir in the truest sense of the word, as memory plays a central character in the story from the first paragraph to the last. Memories both recent and past of Ondaatje, but also the solicited memories of his eccentric family, usually given over a meal or while drinking – many conflicting – all laid bare for us as readers to hear and make our own judgments. Similar to Nabokov’s memoir, Ondaatje writes in a collage of vignettes arranged in somewhat chronological order, ...more
Khris Sellin
A beautiful, lyrical memoir by the author of The English Patient. In 1978 and then again in 1980, Michael Ondaatje went back to his native Sri Lanka, a place he hadn't been since he was a boy, to try to learn more about his family, especially his father.

This is not a straight narrative autobiography but an exploration of family history and Sri Lanka told in a series of short stories. It's sad, funny, and beautiful, and it helps that his family was just a LITTLE bit crazy!

Very engaging read.
Jo Ellen
Just finished reading "Running in the Family" by Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient) which is a bit of a fictionalized memoir of his family's more recent ancestry. The genealogy is accurate but the anecdotes are embellished by countless retellings. As Ondaatje states, "in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts." Some of the sequencing was a bit jumbled but then our family history comes to us that way. The impetus behind writing this book was revealed in the statement: " ...more
This is probably my third time reading Ondaatje's memoir and each time I feel like I am reading it for the first time. This is largely due to the richness of his writing and the lyrical nature of his story telling. Dare I call it magical realism? Of course that doesn't necessarily fit this genre of writing, but there were moments when I felt swept away into a world that couldn't possibly exist. And guess what? I enjoy drifting into Sri Lanka where people bet on horses, eat lizard tongues for wis ...more
Lisa Lee
Wet with rain, a portrait.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory
  • Ways Of Escape
  • The Diary of Alice James
  • Stop-Time
  • Pentimento
  • The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle by Palinurus
  • Wolf Willow
  • The Weight of Oranges / Miners Pond / Skin Divers: Poems
  • Brief Lives
  • Father and Son
  • Fierce Attachments: A Memoir
  • Journals, 1889-1949 (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • A Childhood: The Biography of a Place
  • Heaven's Coast: A Memoir
  • Instead of a Letter: A Memoir
  • Reef
  • Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language
  • The Italics Are Mine
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...
The English Patient The Cat's Table In the Skin of a Lion Anil's Ghost Divisadero

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” 25 likes
More quotes…