Running in the Family

Running in the Family

3.8 8
by Michael Ondaatje

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In Michael Ondaatje’s beloved family memoir, fact and fiction blur to create a dazzlingly original portrait of a lost time and place. Ondaatje left Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at the age of eleven. Almost twenty-five years later, he returned to sort out the recollected fragments of experience, legend, and family scandal, and to reconstruct the carefree, doomed life


In Michael Ondaatje’s beloved family memoir, fact and fiction blur to create a dazzlingly original portrait of a lost time and place. Ondaatje left Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at the age of eleven. Almost twenty-five years later, he returned to sort out the recollected fragments of experience, legend, and family scandal, and to reconstruct the carefree, doomed life his parents and grandparents had led in a place where couples danced the tango in the moonlight, where drink, gambling, and romance were the main occupations of the upper class. Rich with eccentric characters and captivating stories, and set against the exotic landscape of a colonial empire in decline, Running in the Family is Ondaatje’s unforgettable journey through memory and imagination to reclaim his past.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brightly coloured, sweet and painful, bloody-minded and otherworldly, [Running in the Family] achieves the status of legend." — Margaret Atwood

"Ondaatje has produced a remarkable book." — Globe and Mail

"Sheer reading pleasure." — Washington Post

Product Details

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

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Meet the Author

Michael Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943. He moved first to England and then, in 1962, to Canada, where he has taught at the University of Western Ontario, London, and Glendon College, Toronto. A poet and novelist, he has had a continuing interest in theatre, film and publishing. His novel The English Patient (1992) won the Trillium Award, the Governor General's Award, and the Booker Prize, and it was made into a successful film. "The Passions of Lalla" won the fiction award in the 1982 CBC Canadian Literary Awards and was published in Running in the Family (1982).

Michael Ondaatje is the author of such award-winning novels as In the Skin of a Lion and Anil's Ghost, which won both the Giller and the Governor General's Award in 2000. In 1996, his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, was adapted for film, eventually winning nine Academy Awards. Born in Sri Lanka (when it was still called Ceylon) and educated in England, Ondaatje moved to Canada in 1962. He lives in Toronto with his wife, novelist Linda Spalding.

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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.