Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje

by

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Author: Michael Ondaatje

Title: Running in the Family

Genre: Memoir, literary nonfiction

Publication Date: 1982

Number of Pages: 182

Geographical Setting: Sri Lanka

Time Period: Contemporary to writing

Series (If applicable): N/A

Plot Summary:

Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje journeys from the chill of a Toronto winter to exotic Sri Lanka, the homeland he left at eleven.  The trip is a launching point for Ondaatje to revisit his family history; he describes many of his family members, such as his eccentric and memorable grandmother Lalla, and his father Mervyn, whom he lovingly describes as both a mischievous young man and an alchoholic father.  Woven in with Ondaatje’s family history are poetic interludes (a highlight is his poem “The Cinnamon Peeler’s Wife”) and sensory-rich descriptions of Sri Lanka.  This slim and stylistically complex work gently draws readers’ imaginations into Ondaatje’s beloved homeland and his equally beloved but eccentric family.

Subject Headings: Alcoholism; Eccentric Families; Family Histories; Homecomings; Ondaatje, Michael, 1943 -; Sri Lanka; Travel

Appeal: descriptive, complex structure, lyrical, humorous, relaxed, literary, eccentric characters, contemplative, humorous, family-centered, exotic setting, lush

3 terms that best describe this book: lyrical, exotic setting, family history,

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Relative Merits: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka, by Yasmine Gooneratne – Written around the same time as Running in the Family, this memoir of an aristocratic Sinhalese family gives another glimpse into life in Sri Lanka.

New Wind in a Dry Land, by Margaret Laurence – Another famous Canadian author’s memoir, this one also occurs in an exotic setting and has lush, atmospheric writing.

Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – another literary, stylistically complex memoir with lyrical writing.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera – those who like Booker Prize-winning novels (Ondaatje’s The English Patient received this award) may appreciate this novel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Like Running in the Family, Reef is set in Sri Lanka and characterized by poetic, sensual language.

Who Occupies this House, by Kathleen Hill – This literary novel is a moving family saga with lyrical writing.

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray – a funny, moving, stylistically complex literary novel dealing with family relationships, among other things.

-Noelle Nightingale

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