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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lush, evocative, and poetic!, July 5 2000
This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
"Running in the Family" is an impressionistically written and reflective memoir of Michael Ondaatje's eccentric Ceylonese family.
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. The red splashes could represent the tragedy so inherent in Ondaatje's family history. Alcoholism and mental illness rule the house in this family. There are many humorous moments, however, and Ondaatje delivers them with great bravado: "Lalla's great claim to fame was that she was the first woman in Ceylon to have a mastectomy. ... She kept losing the contraption to servants who were mystified by it as well as to the dog, Chindit, who would be found gnawing at the foam as if it were tender chicken." These hilarious memories give the reader a reprieve from the underlying tragedy like a much-needed downpour during a drought.
In the final sections, Ondaatje slowly reveals the many layers of his father's sad, but remarkable life. One chapter, called "Dialogues" merely consists of bits and pieces of conversations about his father. Whether Ondaatje imagined these conversations or actually heard them retold is not important. They give homage to his father in a unique and poignant way.
If you're looking for a travel journal on Sri Lanka, don't look here. But, if you want unforgettable impressions of an exotic land and a remarkable family, if you yearn for a memoir rendered with the finest of literary care, "Running in the Family" will surely please.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lush and Beautifully Written, April 21 2000
This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
I thought that this was a beautiful book but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone-if you're the type whose reading is limited to thrillers and soppy romance then I doubt this would do for you. But if you like imaginative, beautiful, flawless writing, like me, then you'd love this wonderful memoir everybit as much as I did. Ondaatje transports you into his world through his witty, tender and sensual writing...in places it reads like a poem. Running in the Family is sort of like a sketchbook...filled with humourous anecdotes, sensual poems and glimpses of beauty and history...and of course, his outrageous family. Even though I live in Sri Lanka and am familiar with most of the places and things he writes about I was still delightfully stunned by the way he adds new insight and meaning and beauty to these things. Also, I used to imagine that memoirs were dull and boring...but I totally regret my words now. This is hilarious (though in places exaggerated), beautiful and powerful stuff and I give it my highest recommendation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, Jan. 22 2014
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This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
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!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Going to Sri Lanka next month..., Jan. 14 2014
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This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
.....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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Those Who did not love "Anil's Ghost", April 3 2001
By 
Gertrude Wellikoff (Big Island, Hawaii) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
No author can make every book work. It's unfair to expect that. This is the first Ondaajate book I read, make that: devoured. I loved the non-linearity, the depth of love for his home country, the characters gathering and separating. I write this review because I believe strongly that Anil's Ghost is the companion piece to "Running in the Family" and less well-done, less artful. But this book more than makes up for the flaws in the later book. Perhaps the kleig lights of fame are too hot for a writer to work at his best. I say that because the author of this book is so gifted and has so much to evoke that I expect he will do so again, maybe not in his beloved, insane Sri Lanka, or maybe back there again. So, in closing, If you despaired of loving "Anil's Ghost" read this and you're efforts will be fully redeemed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ondaatje's journey back to his beginnings..., May 28 2000
By 
Sunil Govinnage (PERTH Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
'Running in the Family' is an outstandingly evocative autobiographical account of Michael Ondaatje's journey back to his beginnings in Sri Lanka. It is an attempt to trace his origin, record the history of his family and understand his father who was a mystery to him. In the process he also provides rare insights into his family and his growth and development such as the early exposure to literature etc. When I read his latest novel, Anil's Ghost' I discovered how a few locations, names and places he captured in this book has resurfaced in the novel.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars you *can* come home again!, Feb. 11 2001
By 
A. Gillingham (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
In Running in the Family (1982), Ondaatje turns the biographical microscope on himself and his personal family history. There are wonderful anecdotes about his parent's courtship (a story so amazing it would make for an excellent novel in itself) and Ondaatje's feelings on returning to Ceylon. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to the personal anecdotes, many of the poems I love in "The Cinnamon Peeler" have their origins here. This book is a masterful blend of prose and poetry and a must read for the Ondaatje fan.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotic experience, April 23 2000
By 
Laurie Gatlin (Long Beach, CA) - See all my reviews
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Having read Michael Ondaatje's work, I am a bit predisposed to enjoy it, but my anticipation did not prepare me for the luscious experience of listening to this work on tape. Mr. Ondaatje's voice, soft, lilting and hypnotic, was a fabulous presentation for his lyrical writing. I listened to this work on tape in the car, and had to pull off the side of the road, so that I could rewind and relisten to several parts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensual writing at it's best, April 6 2000
By 
Nicole (Seattle, Washington) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Running in the Family (Paperback)
There are some books that can transport you beyond your surroundings, that effortlessly overwhelm your senses. Where words themselves disolve into a picture, and the memories are so lush that feels as though you lived it yourself. This is a book of such astonishing prose that it is no longer anchored to the print, but extends into reality itself. On a cold, rainy Seattle day, I was in Sri Lanka, I could feel the heat and breathe the stifling air. I could see the exotic jungle and animals slinking inside around the trees, I could taste foods that have never touched my tounge, while hearing the laughter of people I have never met. I greedily consumed this book, not moving from my couch, and when finished, I sat in a trance, letting the words sink slowly into my skin.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It was so good that I caught myself drooling!, March 31 2000
Ondaatje is an amazing master of words, and this book certainly shows it. I would not recommend this book to an inexperienced reader, for it is challenging, but very rewarding! I am 17 and really enjoyed it. In fact, one evening, I was so entranced by the book, that I caught myself drooling! This is a fine piece of literature!
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Running in the Family
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje (Paperback - April 10 2001)
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