Running in the Family Paperback – Nov 1 1993
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Picture The Great Gatsby with heat, tea plantations, and even more gin and you've got part of Michael Ondaatje's 1982 Running in the Family. Set in Ondaatje's native Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Running begins with the champagne shenanigans of competitively romantic upper-class youths swept up in that first global trend, the Jazz Age: "They all went swimming again with just the modesty of the night. An arm touched a face. A foot touched a stomach. They could have almost drowned or fallen in love." The main characters to emerge from this frolicking set of dancers and drinkers are Ondaatje's parents, and it is upon them that the book turns from moonlit serenades to financial and emotional ruin.
Part travelogue, part family memoir (complete with photographs), part collection of poems, Running is also a poignant autobiography/biography that reimagines the alcoholism of Ondaatje's father Mervyn and the eventual (inevitable?) divorce of his parents. In telling these tall tales, Ondaatje is affectionate and insightful toward a father who was clearly difficult to accommodate in life. Driving intoxicated over a rickety wooden bridge no one else would trust in any condition, Mervyn turns to young Michael to wink and claim, "God loves a drunk."
Running marks the commencement of Ondaatje's growing interest in migration (does running run in the family?). The expatriate characters of Ondaatje's later novels are here presaged by a generation of Ceylonese steaming off to England for education and an enduring love of cricket. Salman Rushdie knows that "the past is a country from which we are all migrants." In Running in the Family, Ondaatje reaches back, inwards, and abroad to map that most treasured and troubled of places, the human heart. --Darryl Whetter
From Library Journal
Best known for his novel The English Patient , Ondaatje wrote this 1982 memoir after returning to his native Ceylon. His experiences led to a "you can go home again" reflection on his family and country. "For the outsider, this memoir offers a poignant vision exotic in cultural particulars, familiar in intimate human feelings" ( LJ 11/15/82).
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book begins with a series of disjointed stories about Ondaatje's parents and grandparents. I found this part somewhat hard to get through as Ondaatje drops into the stories without providing the reader with the necessary information to understand who the players are and why they are important. However, since the book is highly impressionistic in style, perhaps this approach works. After all, most of us learn about our family history in bits and pieces; we don't pick up yarns and memory bites in chronological order.
The third section, "Don't Talk to Me about Matisse" is a literary treasure! Ondaatje weaves a travel journal with childhood memories. Ondaatje's journey through Sri Lanka and memory land is depicted with great passion and reflection: "I witnessed everything. One morning I would wake and just smell things for the whole day, it was so rich I had to select senses. And still everything moved slowly with the assured fateful speed of a coconut falling on someone's head, like the Jaffna train, like the fan at low speed, like the necessary sleep in the afternoon with dreams blinded by toddy."
Ondaatje generously included several of his poems in the middle of the book. "The Cinnamon Peeler", with its strong sensuality, serves as a fitting metaphor for the stories about romantic interludes in the author's family. "The Cinnamon Peeler" is so beautiful, I plan to commit it to memory.
Ondaatje dwells on the salient qualities of his relatives and homeland. If this book were a painting, it would be a mostly green wash of color with bright, blood red splashes.Read more ›
This is indeed an original piece of work.
I enjoyed the book full of lyrical writing. But the audio version of the book is better. Ondaatje adds value to his original masterpiece when he reads to you with his soft and hypnotic voice.
This is one of the rare opportunities of listening to a great writer of our time.
Most recent customer reviews
really funny and interesting considering it's from a canadian author... and a memoir. Hard to put downPublished 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
Vivid descriptions of life in Ceylon before the insurgence and after. An intimate tale of the authors family secrets. Enjoy! A quick read.Published 13 months ago by Suzanne
Ondaatje makes a history of his family's life in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) before leaving when he was a boy sound like a magical story set in a mysterious place. A delightful read!Published on Jan. 22 2014 by CDNav8r
.....and wanted to immerse myself in the culture.
I now feel that I understand a bit of it.
And had the pleasure of appreciating soo well written text.
I read this book about 15 years ago and now, as I write this review, I recall how much I loved Ondaatje's writing. Read morePublished on Dec 30 2011 by David Sabine
This book was just so enjoyable and hilarious but yet so beautifully written. From the beginning till the end Ondaatje opens up to the reader (in a journal entry) this magical and... Read morePublished on March 18 2002 by Rashanda Davis
In Running in the Family (1982), Ondaatje turns the biographical microscope on himself and his personal family history. Read morePublished on Feb. 11 2001 by A. Gillingham
In this magical book what Micheal captures is the essence of a bygone era. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) also had a generation like Scott Fitzgerald's jazz generation. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2000
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