on July 5, 2000
"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.
on April 25, 1997
After having the wildly successful "The English Patient" under his belt, this author and poet of Sri Lankan
heritage is wonderful to read. While this book is not really about travel, it is a collection of short montages and recollections wrought by two trips back to Sri Lanka (he now lives in
Toronto.) Very mellow and very dusky, and rich with characters and anecdotes that make families the exiting beasts that they are.
on November 28, 1998
"Running in the family" has an extremely fluid and easy feel to it, much like "the english patient" and "in the skin of a lion." ondaatje's style is so understated, he involves you in a dialogue as he writes. though this is somewhat of a non-fiction work, it has the feel of a story. It is beautifully written with the abrupt, moody turns of phrase which give the book its readability.
on June 5, 1999
This book explains a lot about Ondaatje's background and the surroundings that may have led him to the life of a poet. The collection of "tales" has a touch of magical-realism, as though they are still looked at through the eyes of a boy. Very different from the English Patient, a lighter read, easy to put down and pick back up. One chapter a night before you go to bed will give you delightful dreams.
on April 4, 1998
Don't just stop at The English Patient! Running In The Family is fun and quick reading. Mr. Ondaatje give us a water colour painting of travels with his family to the place of his birth. The book offers thoughtful and sometimes humorous look at his family members! The sights, sounds, smells, and people are so vivid one can almost see the sparkle in his eyes as he recants the memories!
on July 9, 1999
michael ondaatje's book is one of the few books that i found really easy to read, but when i went back to it i realised there was alot more meaning hidden. it is not only a travel book, but a diary, and a very personel story of a man finding his roots. very touching. i recommend it.