Running in the Family

Running in the Family

by Michael Ondaatje


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679746690
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1993
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 153,538
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

Michael Ondaatje is the author of three previous novels, a memoir and eleven books of poetry. His novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize. Born in Sri Lanka, he moved to Canada in 1962 and now lives in Toronto.

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Running in the Family 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 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.
MeditationesMartini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh, the fantasy twenties, the bravenewworld twenties, the isla formosa twenties. Just in case the seething exploitativeness and class privilege of it all wasn't up in your face enough in Gatsby, in Brideshead, Ondaatje slaps you in the face with it. This is a literal colony, and the drunkest idiot son is gonna pay for all those tripping gin walks down cinnamon-scented paths by being, like, a major in the Coldwater Guards and safely protecting Ceylon from the Japanese. Ondaatje makes no apologies for being a scion of privilege, and he gets away with it, because this world is that intoxicating. Because more than we want to condemn this world of laughter and mystery and affairs and the great chain of family ties and light-hearted laughter and cold-blooded savoir faire in the face of the fact that all that stops you from being a human stain is that you're beautiful--more than we want to condemn it, we want to experience it. We want to be the ones who lived fast and made this tiny land our own. We want to fly, tonight, and it's a lot more honest to make that flight a flood, like Ondaatje does for his batty grandma Lalla, and to have it end in crushing brutal death and not be the less wonderful for that than it is to cover up and make it Peter and Wendy and "there'll always be an England." There won't and there wasn't, and the same goes for planter Sri Lanka, but the difference is the bright young Ceylonese things knew it, and it redeems them a little and makes them a lot more doomed and desirable. A fantasy world; one that evaporates in peacock cries and dew.
MickyFine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Blurring the lines between memoir and fiction, Ondaatje's book recounts his experiences visiting Sri Lanka as he explores his family history in what was then known as Ceylon. With rich and lyrical descriptions of the country and his family, the book is beautiful to read. Ondaatje manages to capture the disjointed nature of oral narratives that often accompany explorations of family history. Filled with beautiful imaginings of events involving various family members, actually recountings from family and friends, and more reflective passages on his experiences and individuals he calls family. There are also a few photos included at the beginning of each section that serves to remind the reader that as much as the book pushes the boundary of fiction, these are still real individuals and events. Even the few poetry sections are beautiful, reflecting a country that is both Ondaatje's home and yet exotic at the same time. Evocative and a rich exploration of the many different stories that make up any family history, Ondaatje captures the fuzzy boundary of history and story.
sparksmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Simple book, but very beautifully written.
wunderkind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is Ondaatje's attempt to come to terms with his strange and often tumultuous family history. Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and his grandparents were from rich and aristocratic families, descendants of Europeans who had colonized the island a couple of hundred years earlier. Ondaatje writes of his grandparents, his parents, and his childhood while weaving in incidents from his own homecoming after 25 years away. But the story eventually reveals itself to be focused mostly on Ondaatje's attempt to understand his father, a mostly gentle man who alternated between civility and utter drunkenness. Some of the stories are pretty hilarious--such as the several times his father drunkenly (often nakedly) hijacked trains and had to be picked up by family members at the next stop--but of course the reality of such a childhood is not glossed over; as one of Ondaatje's siblings remarked, "I showed what you had written to someone and they laughed and said what a wonderful childhood we must have had, and I said it was a nightmare." The book, by the way, is not an exhaustively researched family history, but more of a set of memories belonging to Ondaatje and others. Ondaatje conveys the hard-to-grasp nature of his own story by telling it un-chronologically; sometimes you think that the memory is his, but then you realize that it must be someone else's memory being told second-hand, but in such a way that you realize that Ondaatje has probably heard this story so many times that it's almost as though he were actually there (if that makes sense). Ondaatje says it best himself in the acknowledgments: "I must confess that the book is not a history but a portrait or 'gesture.' And if those listed above disapprove of the fictional air I apologize and can only say that in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts."
margaretplays on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, haunting memoir of his family history. I love the photographs.
fieldnotes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a collection of short stories, a small offering of poems, a few remembrances, some vignettes, a spattering of well juxtaposed historical facts and some black and white photographs. It is the memoir as scrap book, half evolving into a filial overture to a flawed but forgiven father. ¿Running in the Family¿ is more atmospheric than linear, more concerned with the rakish and entertaining essence of wealthy Ceylon in the first part of the 20th century than with any of the individuals that drink, dance and screw their way through its pages. Though Ondaatje sets out to ¿trace the maze of relationships in [his] ancestry,¿ he does not distress his content with a rigid chronology.There is little to anchor a reader who passes through Ondaatje¿s impressions and learns disconnected facts about lizards, light infantry and railway travel. Unfortunately, the strongest pieces of writing (the ¿Passions of Lalla¿ chapter and the accounts of Papa Ondaatje ruining train trips for a whole country) show up the wispiness of the everything else. Once Ondaatje gets momentum with a character description and sinks his teeth into plot (however temporarily), he is at his best and most memorable. The sudden shift away from an engaging character who gets swept from the living or flown out of sight does create a certain wistfulness and sense of loss for the reader, which is in keeping with the overall tone of the memoir. But, it renders the more half-hearted chapters, poems and historical accounts less satisfying. That said, I have an unusually clear sense of what it must have been like to live in Ceylon at the time of the narrative and an unexpected, subtle wish that I actually was living amongst the humans who populate ¿Running in the Family.¿ Ondaatje¿s people lived large, enjoyed themselves tremendously and had a wonderful, exotic and sensuous backdrop for their existence. (Though, the failure of any indigenous Ceylonese or persons of low income to appear in this book, does mean that a reader only gets a taste for the narrowest, most stratospheric segment of the population¿whose ability to exist in narratives totally devoid of the people who must be picking and cleaning their fruit, making house and fixing everything that breaks is a little off-putting.)
vpfluke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We are taken into the almost extravagantly lived life of the Ondaatje family in Sri Lanka. The prose is as rich as the countryside. We see a family only step away from the colonial English. We suffer through the torrid heat, and we undergo an almost a wild west encounter. We can see how part of Ondaatje novelistic visage was formed from the stories of those around him while growing up and the re=encounter on two return visits.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An autobiographical account of the author's life and family history in Sri Lanka. Very well written and really entertaining! My favourite Ondaatje book.
monarchi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oondaatje's family memoir is a beautiful, evocative mix of poetry and prose, memory and inventiveness.Although he is based in Canada, Ondaatje masterfully captures the environment of Sri Lanka's cities and estates, and presents a compelling portrait of his eclectic family. Reading this book in the middle of English winter, I found myself suddenly a million miles away, in a land of coconuts and jasmine and secret marriages and drunken military officers holding up night trains.Even if you don't like memoirs and couldn't care less about Sri Lanka, read this book for the language. His poetry is exquisite, but so is his prose: tender, descriptive, nearly sing-song in places. An absolute must-read.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Ondaatje returns to his native Sri Lanka to learn the history of his large and moderately illustrious family. His prose strives for lyrical but is often ridiculous: "if I must die, I shall do it here on the white alphabet of the heaving boar's tusks." Worse, his family's stories are too over-the-top to be believable and though Ondaatje acknowledge's his family's penchant for exaggeration, he provides to few details of feelings, thoughts and personalities for us to connect with the vast family he describes. I can see why Ondaatje would have liked to know these stories; I can't see why he expected us to care.
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.