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Running in the Family

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  7,215 ratings  ·  622 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, 208 pages
Published November 30th 1993 by Vintage (first published 1982)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  7,215 ratings  ·  622 reviews

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Violet wells
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
To what extent do the most colourful anecdotes about a person define that person's personality? In my family the most enigmatic character was my maternal grandfather. The anecdote most often brought up to describe him was the night he organised a mass break out from the nursing home where he had been placed after another calamitous drunken night when he had done himself damage. His escape party was eventually captured three miles from the home. They were all sitting by the sea. Thinking about it ...more
Claudia Savage
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
sigh, ...more
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 us 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 ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, 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-packed hearfeuds:
And ...more
Jacob Overmark
Michael Ondaatje returns to his native Sri Lanka to learn more about his ancestral history.
The family chronicle spans over hundreds of years - and it is certainly not boring.
There are usually one or two eccentric aunts/uncles in a family, here eccentricity is … running in the family.
Apart from being a very personal account and a family reunion the book also offers a happy revisit to those having travelled to Sri Lanka .
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 07, 2009 rated it liked it
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 Wound. ...more
Jan 12, 2009 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2011 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. Exc
It was my first time reading a post-colonial text. This book is such a pleasant and smoothly-written by an author who is craving into his past; the past where at the beginning he claims he has forgotten and been detached from. He goes through a series of relatives, acquintances, family friends as if completing a puzzle. However, his puzzle at the end is not a typically tightly fit among all the pieces. You often find accounts which are intriguing or sometimes peculiar; their veracity might somet ...more
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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."
Vicki Antipodean Bookclub
“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 around the scattered acts and memories with no more clues. Not that we thought that we would ever be able to fully understand you. Love is often enough, in your stadium of small things.”
Michael Ondaatje was eleven years old when he left Sri Lanka for an English boarding school. In Running in the Family, he returns as an
Jun 21, 2017 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.
Debapriya Nag
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 24, 2007 rated it liked 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
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: michael-ondaatje
I wanted to touch them into words.
How I have used them.… They knit the story together, each memory a wild thread in the sarong.
During certain hours, at certain years in our lives, we see ourselves as remnants from the earlier generations that were destroyed. So our job becomes to keep peace with enemy camps, eliminate the chaos at the end of Jacobean tragedies, and with “the mercy of distance” write the histories.
Varun Nayar
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My eighth encounter with Running, this time for my dissertation. I am only 25 but still I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I will be reading and loving Ondaatje in continuous and gradually different ways all my life.
Feb 09, 2012 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
May 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 01, 2017 rated it liked it
ok this is the most random and aimless collection of stories about the most frivolous events and unnecessary characters that I have ever encountered.
Kris - My Novelesque Life
(Review Not on Blog)

Michael Ondaatje is one of my favourite writers, even though my rating on his books may not reflect that. He is also an author I don't often recommend to other readers, especially non, new or BOTM (Book of the Month) readers. Ondaatje is a poet in all his writing. I have read his poems, novels and now nonfiction and all of them are so beautifully written. However, he is not always easy to comprehend. He shows instead of tells, and uses imagery
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 18tbr, non-fiction
Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje returns to Sri Lanka in search of his family’s past. The stories in this short, beautifully written, very original memoir are often surprising with a mythic quality, but the author has warned the reader : “While all these names may give an air of authenticity, I must confess that the book is not a history but a portrait or ‘gesture.’ And if those listed above [in the acknowledgments] disapprove of the fictional air I apologize and can only say that in ...more
Leah (Jane Speare)
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Pure poetry, beautiful writing, hilarious stories it’s hard to believe it’s not fiction. This is also the perfect book to read if you’re going to Sri Lanka.
Dec 18, 2017 rated it liked it
A nice, short, coming-home memoir that was also interspersed with lots poetic tangents. The book was nicely written at times and plodding at others, but it succeeded at recapturing a slice of time in South Asia when peoples lives (or at least people with relative wealth) were much more carefree than they are today. I had to remind myself this was nonfiction at times because of how colorful Ondaatje's family is. As someone who grew up with lots of Sri Lankan friends this book also provided a bit ...more
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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
“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” 29 likes
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