Running in the Family

Running in the Family

3.8 8
by Michael Ondaatje

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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.  See more details below


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Brightly coloured, sweet and painful, bloody-minded and otherworldly, [this book] achieves the status of legend.”
–Margaret Atwood

“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.”
Vancouver Province

“…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.”
Hamilton Spectator

“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.”
Washington Post

“It dazzles with its range of imagination, richness of language and the consistently involving changes of mood and tempo.”
Toronto Star

“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.…"
–Leon Edel

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.56(d)

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Running in the Family 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Ondaajte's 'Running In the Family' is a supremely satisfying narrative. It unfolds much like a conversation amongst people with a shared history; i.e., it is a distillation, and the narrative is remembered from different perspectives, and the narrative, a remembering, is told to suit the teller--whom the author identifies; in consequence, questions are not always answered, and the brevity--some chapters span a single page--may leave the inattentive reader (who misunderstands the authors intent)wanting. I understood the author's intent. And for me, when the longing for family narrative beckons, this book satisfies like no other.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Running in the Family' is a wonderfully-written web of a family in Sri Lanka. Although it can be confusing the first time through with its jumping from era to era, scene to scene, it blends perfectly and masterfully. Ondaatje gently prods at the family's story, weaving together hot, lazy feelings with passionate love and dramas. The characters are fascinating, although at times I wished he would dwell on some a bit longer. Enthralling and highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Family dynamics at the center give a glimpse, though not a panorama of Sri Lankan life. I bought it wanting to gain insight into Sri Lanka before an upcoming trip. It did not fufill that need but was an interesting read nonetheless.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is ideal for any Lankan travelling or living abroad because it evokes poignant and vivid memories of the motherland. Ondaatje's anecdotes about his family are laugh-out-loud funny and his descriptions of Lanka are perfect....I loved it. A thoroughly 'devourable' book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Success has its downfalls¿in this case, Running in the Family inhales family history, combines stale air with ambition and exhales ¿wanna be¿ meaningfulness that finds a publisher based on the author¿s past success. No matter how hard the author tries to create something for the reader to love about this book¿his toolbox includes clever phrasing, beautiful imagery, funny storytelling and tearjerker misunderstandings¿something else feels, well, forced and used. This memoir reads too much like a book published on the wake of past success¿ ¿He¿s Michael Ondaatje¿fans will buy the book¿a sure bestseller just because he wrote it.¿ Ondaatje¿s success in this memoir is his ability to alter the form of the text by interspersing standard paragraphs with poetry, quotes, songs, journal entries, photos, and examples of the native language. This variety kept me reading, and makes the time invested worthwhile¿I didn¿t want to miss anything new in stylistic method. The book is worth reading just to study its styling. Gertrude Stein came to mind as a gossipy social history of Ceylon introduced the author¿s connection to place while laying the groundwork for his family¿s eccentricity and falling apart. Plenty of struggle and strife are laid out on tablecloth pages for a picnic, but someone forgot the ketchup and mustard. By page 185, I had learned more than I ever wanted to know about grandma¿s false breast and the dog chewing on it¿without getting a clear image of this woman¿s courage. I wanted more. The same can be said for all the major characters, which remain undeveloped without heart, characters that read as reportage rather than real human stories. What happened to Doris? Why did dad take over the story at the end? Names became confused with family titles. Ceylonese words appear like ants across the page, without translation, and therefore, without meaning. A map was provided, but didn¿t show highways, homes or plantations mentioned in the text, making it useless except to prove the teardrop shape of the island. As in character development, the metaphor of a tear-shaped island (along with so many other metaphors) was never fully developed. Not until the last pages was the purpose for going on this picnic understood¿the author left Ceylon, saw his father for the last time at a young age, and felt guilty about not being there as father fell apart¿I think the author wants to know the father he never knew. Is this Ondaatje¿s purpose? As it is, the reader feels more like an intruder than an intimate friend¿there¿s just too much about this family the reader is left caring nothing about. Whatever the purpose of sharing this memoir with a readership, it would have been better kept running in the family. Running in the Family¿does the title imply family tendencies toward alcoholism, extravagant behaviour, false breasts, bad driving, chicken farming and poor decision making run in the family? Or is it just Ceylon that runs in the family and the family members have no more in common with each other than a place they shared in the past? Is that why this memoir felt so empty¿so literally starved after a 203-page meal? This memoir would have made a great book to hand out to family members at a family picnic, but there just isn¿t enough to sate a larger appetite.