- Paperback: 184 pages
- Publisher: New Canadian Library; First Edition edition (Nov. 1 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0771098952
- ISBN-13: 978-0771098956
- Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 1.2 x 17.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 91 g
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #763,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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
“Brightly coloured, sweet and painful, bloody-minded and otherworldly, [this book] achieves the status of legend.”
“Eloquent, oblique, witty, full of light and feeling.…Ondaatje’s knowledge of the fragility and luck of life is very clear. So, too, is the grace and originality of his prose.”
–The New Yorker
“Ondaatje has produced a remarkable book.…Shimmering through the haze of heat and memory is an impressionistic, sometimes surreal portrait of an exotic time and place now gone, a colonial paradise that had its own rhythms and imperatives.”
–Globe and Mail
“A beautiful, luscious book. Michael Ondaatje has depicted his extraordinary family, who delighted in masks and costumes and love affairs that ‘rainbowed over marriages’ in the kind of language that makes glory of their lives. He has gone on a poet’s journey to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the reader who travels with him enters a truly magical world.”
–Maxine Hong Kingston
“It sparkles with the intensity and vividness of its multifaceted tales of romance and intrigue.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“A brilliant, charming, poetic, hyperbolic holiday of a book.…Ondaatje walks the line between fact and fiction with a delicately rendered delight.”
“…the brilliant and moving book he has written is original in every way that matters.”
–W. S. Merwin
“A beautiful, luscious book of discovery and remembrance.”
“With a prose style equal to the voluptuousness of [Ondaatje’s] subject and a sense of humor never too far away, Running in the Family is sheer reading pleasure.”
“It dazzles with its range of imagination, richness of language and the consistently involving changes of mood and tempo.”
“This is an intriguing, funny, dream-like book, impossible to put down.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“…brief, vivid scenes, moments revived out of remote memories, pictures of the intensities lived by his passionate parents… amid the lush flora, the predatory fauna, and the old-fashioned life of the British colonies. This is great story-telling.…"
From the Hardcover edition.
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. 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.
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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I now feel that I understand a bit of it.
And had the pleasure of appreciating soo well written text.
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