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Running in the Family

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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.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1982

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About the author

Michael Ondaatje

86 books3,524 followers
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 University in Kingston, Ontario and began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1970 he settled in Toronto. From 1971 to 1988 he taught English Literature at York University and Glendon College in Toronto.

He and his wife, novelist and academic Linda Spalding, co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, with Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, and Esta Spalding.

Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje's work also encompasses memoir, poetry, and film.

Ondaatje has, since the 1960s, also been involved with Toronto's influential Coach House Books, supporting the independent small press by working as a poetry editor.

In 1988 Michael Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) and two years later became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He has two children and is the brother of philanthropist, businessman, and author Christopher Ondaatje.

In 1992 he received the Man Booker Prize for his winning novel adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film, The English Patient.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 777 reviews
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,073 reviews6,806 followers
January 12, 2020

This book is hard to categorize as it is part family memoir, part travelogue and part autobiography. There’s even a section of poetry. Ondaatje, best known for his novel, The English Patient, was born in Ceylon, the island off southern India, now Sri Lanka. His ancestry was a mix of native Sinhalese and Dutch, but the European part predominated since they were a member of the small minority of Christians on the island and certainly upper class.


Sri Lanka is about the size of West Virginia, so his travels took him to every corner of the island. I appreciate the map included that showed most of the places mentioned in the story. We hear some about famous authors who lived there for a while such as D. H Lawrence and Pablo Neruda. And we get a bit about the country’s history such as the revolt of young people in 1971 when as many as 4,000 were killed.


To show how upper crust the extended family was, they all had servants and nannies. They left Colombo seasonally in a caravan of cars to avoid the heat and go to the hill towns where they created a resort atmosphere, racing horses and swimming, playing golf, tennis and croquet. English and other Europeans were disliked as colonial masters unless they married locals in which case they were fully accepted into the local society.

In the late 1970s Ondaatje returned to the island for several months to have his family meet his relatives and to catch up on his own family history. His mother had separated from his father when the author was as an infant. He left the island in 1954, when he was eleven, to move to England with his mother. So to some extent the author is writing about events he never really witnessed. And what a wild family it was.

Two people stand out for their crazy antics: his father and an aunt, a sister of his mother. Let’s just look at his father: a kind man that they loved, but he was at times a raging alcoholic. Technically he suffered from dipsomania, a condition where he could go for a few months without any alcohol but then go on a binge and drink multiple bottles of gin in a day for weeks at a time. He had been a director of tea plantation and later a major in the Ceylon army. In one of his bouts of blind alcoholism he took his army issue gun and commandeered a train, going about naked. His influential friends helped cover things up. Family memoir spills over into family legends, and some of his antics and those of an aunt seem a stretch to believe.


Another major theme of the book, I’ll call homage to the tropics. Perhaps because the author was visiting his homeland from Canada, he is re-enamored of the heat, rain on metal roofs, bats and peacocks coming into houses, the riot of flowers and plant tendrils reaching into the windows. This lush tropical exoticism makes think of another book I reviewed, Tale of a Certain Orient by Milton Hatoum, set in Brazil.


And there’s humor. “So how did your grandmother die?” “Natural causes.” “What?” “Floods.”
“My father continued with his technique of trying to solve one problem by creating another.”
“He was my father’s and Noel’s closest friend and the best man at several weddings he tried to spoil.”


After England Ondaatje went to college in Canada and eventually became a Canadian citizen. He has written about a dozen other books which, beside The English Patient, include The Cat’s Table, Warlight and Anil’s Ghost.

Top photo: Sri Lanka landscape from ak8.picdn.net/shutterstock
Pettah Market in Colombo from shutterstock
Colombo skyline from cdn2./media/1075/colombo-sri-lanka
Map of Sri Lanka from ezilon.com/maps
The author from irishtimes.com
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,897 followers
August 9, 2018
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, I'd have to say it's an anecdote that so well defines him that I almost suspect it might have been made up. It would appear that if we want to be remembered fondly the onus is on us to provide a couple of colourful anecdotes. The rest of one's life doesn't matter much!
Ondaatje's memoir about his family is essentially an album of anecdotes. He looks for the actions that seem to define the secret spring of an individual's identity. Perhaps this is what an anecdote is - a moment when a person takes off the social mask and acts from the core of his or her being. In The Waves Virginia Woolf's interpretation of key anecdotes for her characters were all of an intensely private and hidden nature. I suspect Woolf here hit on a fundamental truth about the secret springs of identity denied to conventional biographers. Ondaatje's notion of anecdote is of this conventional nature. He centres on the entertaining, the tragicomic, on what makes good dining room conversation.

Perhaps a prerequisite for being a brilliant writer is to possess an enigmatic family. Chabon's Moonglow was fuelled by a splendidly enigmatic grandfather and this is given much of its narrative drive by a fabulous grandmother and a tragicomic over exuberant father. Add to that the landscape and animals of Ceylon.

There's always an enchanting and exhilarating freshness about Ondaatje's writing like seeing a familiar vista under a fresh fall of snow.
Profile Image for Claudia Savage.
Author 1 book7 followers
September 15, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Elaine.
773 reviews350 followers
January 23, 2018
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 could listen to (on the page) for much longer than this book lasts.
Profile Image for Sophia.
269 reviews2,029 followers
November 28, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Eric.
566 reviews942 followers
October 14, 2010
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 hearse. In his last years my father was a founding member of “The Ceylon Cactus and Succulent Society” and this interest began during his time in Kuttapitiya—all because of his devious and defensive nature. He loved ordered gardens and hated to see beds ravaged by Lalla’s plundering. Gradually the vegetation at Kuttapitiya took on a prickly character. He began with roses, then Lalla wore gloves, and so he progressed to the cactus. The landscape turned grey around us. He welcomed the thorn bush, experimented with gnarled Japanese figs, retreated to pragmatic vegetables or spears of the succulent. His appreciation of growing things became more subtle, turned within a more limited spectrum and gradually Lalla’s visits tapered away. Her journeys were in any case made solely for the effect of arriving at friends’ houses in Colombo bearing soft rain-grown flowers.

Running in the Family (1982) is a family photographic collage, an album of lyrics, an archive of island gossip, a travelogue of its author’s visits to ancestral parishes and childhood sites. (A salad of Tamil, Portuguese, Dutch, Sinhalese and English ancestors makes for wonderful Firbankian names: Shelton de Saram, Sammy Dias Bandaranaike, Lalla Gratiaen.) I love the lore held in the honey-bright amber of his prose:

Most of the events in the erotic literature of Asia, one suspects, must take place in the mountains…

She loved the thunder; it spoke to her like a king.

On my brother’s wall in Toronto are the false maps. Old portraits of Ceylon. The result of sightings, glances from trading vessels, the theories of sextant. The shapes differ so much they seem to be translations—by Ptolemy, Mercator, Francois Valentyn, Mortier, and Heydt—growing from mythic shapes into eventual accuracy. Amoeba, then stout rectangle, and then the island as we know it now, a pendant off the ear of India.

Profile Image for Jacob Overmark.
200 reviews9 followers
August 28, 2019
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 .
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,822 reviews1,325 followers
December 9, 2019
Truth disappears with history and gossip tells us in the end nothing of personal relationships.

This is a fragmented and haunted account of the author's family, an account which goes back to Sri Lanka--where the author hadn't lived since the age of eleven. This work easily could have been twice as long. It is perilous work sifting through the details of one's family. I suppose it isn't as traumatic when one grows up being made aware of the stress fractures and the splintered remains. Much is made of the differences between Canada and South Asia; the climate, fauna and flora are as integral to the tone of the narrative as any genealogical shenanigans.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
June 10, 2010
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. You will believe that the guy is worthy of winning that Booker prize. He has THAT talent.

In the past couple of years, I read a handful of beautiful memoirs by well-known novelists. I enjoyed Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes for its funny innocent yet tragic story. I admired Vladimir Nabokov's Speak Memory for its elegant and clear prose. I laughed a number of times reading the funny anecdotes of Roald Dahl in his childhood memoir, Boy. The newspaper man, Howard Griffin gave a new perspective on the life of a white man pretending to be black in Black Like Me. Lastly, I laughed and cried reading The Invisible Wall by Harry Bestein for the tragic story between two people so in-love but happened to be of different religions.

It's just that Anne Frank is not a novelist but The Diary of a Young Girl rules when it comes to how powerful a memoir could be from generations to generations.

They say that each of us must accomplish only 3 things before we die: have a child, plant a tree and write a book.

I have a daughter. I planted many coconut trees when I was growing up in the province. Only the book is missing. It can only be a memoir.

And it has be something similar to what Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family for a number of reasons:

1) The setting is Asia - Sri Lanka (also known before as Ceylon). The tropical backdrop, beautifully captured by Mr. Ondaatje in his lyrical prose. The memories of waking up in the fresh morning air surrounded by coconut and other trees during my summer breaks spent in our barrio rushed back to me while reading this book.

2) The tale of an exotic island, family, truth, memory and legend are wonderfully woven together. I just could not help comparing this to Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. The Ondaatjes's clan in the 50's to 70's life in Sri Lanka is similar to what the Buendia's clan lived in Macondo. Just like in One Hundred, Running in the Family again proves that the influences of our great-great grandparents are still with us even if we did not meet or see them. There are just things that got passed on to us whether we like them or not.

3) How fathers, no matter how distant they could be at times, influence their children. This is a big nice read for the coming Father's Day. The relationship of Michael and Mervyn Ondaatje seems to be so honest even if it is devoid of an drama. There is a part in the book that I liked so much that I read it three times:

"Two days before he died we were together. We were alone in the house. I can't remember what we said but we sat there for three hours. I too don't talk too much. You know it is a most relaxed thing when you sit with a best friend and you know there is nothing you have to tell him, to empty your mind. We just stayed there together, silent in the dusk like this, and we were quite happy."

Oh God, I miss my dad.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
November 7, 2019
Memoir 3 of my 2019 Non-fiction November reading frenzy. Can you believe I put off reading this one because I thought it was about running? Instead Ondaatje uses a few visits to Sri Lanka in the 1970s to take a trip down memory lane, with stories from his family told interlaced with poetry. In some ways it's a strange privileged point of view since he only mentions the violence that would have already started in one passing comment, but he moved away from the island as a child so the majority of memory to recall comes more through the stories of the older generation of his family.

Also this book has lush descriptions of food and place. I am investigating Sri Lankan curry recipes, which apparently have been making a come back!
Profile Image for Amy.
17 reviews22 followers
November 11, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,651 reviews1,485 followers
May 22, 2014
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 speak to me either. There were chapters consisting of just short bits of conversations.

Sometimes I was confused and simply didn't know what was being said!

Ceylon falls on a map and its outline is the shape of a tear. After the spaces of India and Canada it is so small. A miniature. Drive ten miles and you are in a landscape so different that by rights it should belong to another country. From Galle in the south to Colombo a third of the way up the coast is only seventy miles. When houses were built along the coastal road it was said that a chicken could walk between the two cities without touching ground. (page 147)

What is that suppose to mean, that with the chicken?????? That the cities were close? This must be over my head. It doesn't work for me. It is not terribly funny.....

I didn't particularly like reading about the lifestyle of drinking and partying and small talk and gambling, the lifestyle so predominant to this family and many others of their group. Drinking became a huge problem for particular individuals. Having recently finished Ava's Man, where drinking also played an important role, I wonder why I was so angry at the individuals in this book, while I was not in Bragg's book?

And now that I think of it, I adored Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, which is composed of vignettes. Why did that go down my throat like ice-cream while this books had me choking off and on? Something is wrong between me and this book. I will say, that by the end I felt a deep affection for Michael's father, I was no longer angry at him. So something worked! Listen to this about his father:

He was amazingly protective. He would never let me stay with friends over the weekend, they would have to come and stay with us. And if there wasn't enough food to go around he would announce these signals such as "F.H.B.", which meant "Family Hold Back". We loved all those codes. (page194)

So I ended up having a soft spot fpr this man, Michael's father, irregardless of all his faults. For the most part, the craziness of the life-style bugged me to pieces. It was surreal, dream-like, crazy and bizarre, and the writing is too. Somewhere along the way the comment is made that those growing up in the 20s through to the 40s were immature and just simply did not have to grow up, not until the war came. I recognize this constant partying as perhaps something that characterized the 20s.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I have mixed feelings for this book. Yes, I liked it, but not more. I also wish the book had taught me a bit more about Ceylon!
Profile Image for Monica.
283 reviews12 followers
April 7, 2011
***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 thing. But really, she's a saint. Except when she wasn't.

Ok. ok. I get it. Sri Lanka is beautiful and full of wonderful people. Or at least that is what you keep telling me. It is really hard for me to tell because I don't know any of these people and I wasn't allowed to get to know them through your writing.

It is apparent that Mr. Ondaatje is an amazing writer (except for commas- He apparently hates them. I'm not an English major either but Mr. Ondaatje has an editor). He writes beautifully about his topics, using amazing metaphors and descriptive, lyrical prose. His poems are amazing and beautiful. But what isn't apparent is why I would want to read a personal memoir that was so personal that I was lost throughout much of it. Who was this person again? How did they connect to the story? The memories are written in brief synopsis (synopsi?, synopsises?) that jump from here to there and back again.

It appears that the journey the author wants to take us on is not really our journey to take but more so his and he is forced to share it with us. Well, I for one am disappointed in that journey.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,476 followers
July 30, 2012
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 privileged class, replete with lavish social gatherings, lots of dancing, gambling at the horse races, garden clubs, and travel between town and mountain estates ("from the twenties until the war, no one had to grow up"). There are plenty of colorful and funny family characters he brings to life, the typical tragedies, and outrageously absurd escapades brought on by his father's periodic alcoholic binges. There was also plenty of romance: "Love affairs rainbowed over marriages and lasted forever�so it often seemed that marriage was the greater infidelity". After his parents divorced, there were some financial constraints, as his father at one point resorted to chicken farming and his mother to managing motels or rooming houses.

Amid the vignettes, we get many mesmerizing stories, poetic interludes of memory, and a few full poems that reach for the essence of this unique tropical land. In the acknowledgments section, the author notes: "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 disapprove of the fictional air I apologize and can only say that in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts."
Profile Image for Ryan Faulkner.
19 reviews
July 12, 2007
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. whatever controlled the fear we all share we would have embraced. that could only be dealt with one day at a time--with that song we cannot translate, or the dusty green of the cactus you touch and turn carefully like a wounded child towards the sun, or the cigarettes you light.

. . . during the monsoon, on my last morning, all this beethoven and rain.

Profile Image for Tawny.
363 reviews7 followers
April 4, 2008
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."
Profile Image for Debapriya Nag.
4 reviews13 followers
February 14, 2013
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 stop admiring Ondaatje's language, the style and this 'gesture' (he says, 'the book is not a history but a portrait or 'gesture''). My favourite chapters are 'The Passions of Lalla', 'How I Was Bathed' and the poem 'To Colombo'. I love the prospect of opening this book anywhere and rereading chapters every now and then.
Profile Image for Praxedes.
406 reviews11 followers
June 21, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Vicki Antipodean Bookclub.
407 reviews33 followers
August 24, 2019
“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 adult to try and learn about the extended family he left behind. The book combines pieces of prose and poetry to form a partially fictionalised, dream-like picture of Sri Lanka weaving between time, place and person. Ondaatje’s family offers up an incredible cast of characters; Bampa who would visit England to dance and buy crystal, his grandmother Lalla who “died in the arms of a blue jacaranda” and could persuade anyone into chaos and his father who had bouts of dipsomania. The only omission for me was a sense of how his family had shaped Ondaatje himself, but he creates such an evocative sense of Sri Lanka and his heritage that that was mere detail. A beautiful book that I will return to again.
Profile Image for armin.
243 reviews24 followers
August 30, 2018
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 sometimes seem dubitable but they depict a wonderful series of interactions between people that sometimes appear throughout the book and in occasions vanish as the story flows through. Ondaatje goes through the characters in no particular order; however it rarely makes you feel something is missing in between. Sometimes there are some of his poems too which make the book catchier. I read the book on a plane and by the time an hour-long flight was over, I was halfway through it. You can read and enjoy the smoothness. So recommended!
Profile Image for Lindsey.
35 reviews
May 31, 2014
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 image of his father he was attempting to portray and couldn't put my finger on his real feelings towards him. One minute he's describing a horrible drunk and you think "oh what a terrible childhood" the next he's talking about this loving and caring man. Perhaps it was just me but I felt completely disconnected from him as the narrator and couldn't muster up any sympathy or any feelings at all.
Profile Image for Marcos Teach.
887 reviews11 followers
February 21, 2020
I want to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, want to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover.

Love is often enough, towards your stadium of small things.

This was my first time reading Mr Ondaatje’s masterful quasi-memoir and every time I read and open one of his books, something magical always happens. He writes about growing up in fragmented sentences, poetry, and lyrical lines that are dreamlike, surreal, and it feels like it he grew up in a hot and intoxicating world on Ceylon. Reading this also gave me insight to the structure and deliberateness of how his novels are written, often brimming with themes of loss and a pang of sadness that never seems to go away.
Profile Image for Sab.
81 reviews19 followers
July 25, 2007
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. Sometimes I felt that the cleverness of the prose detracted from the substance of the story, and that in an effort to hint at too much Ontdaaje went into depth with too little.
Profile Image for Edita.
1,287 reviews373 followers
August 9, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Jason.
Author 1 book10 followers
September 1, 2009
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.
Profile Image for Beth.
Author 48 books321 followers
December 30, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Mary K.
462 reviews20 followers
December 27, 2019
Beautifully written, poetic meteor about the author’s father and about growing up in Sri Lanka.
Profile Image for Ayden M.
32 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2019
While I was forced to read this book for the International Baccalaureate, this book wasn’t bad. Personally I am not a huge fan of memoir style writing, but some of the stories in here were captivating enough to keep me motivated to read the next chapter. If you enjoy the memoir style, give this a read.
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