Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family (1982)

Running In The Family - Michael Ondaatje

When the author returns to Sri Lanka, to all that was there before he dreamed of marrying, having children and writing (paraphrasing), readers are tugged along in a personal exploration and journey.


There is no formal itinerary and the description of a single room might require pages while the formal names for some places might reside only on the map at the beginning of the volume.


Those readers seeking either a traditional travelogue or memoir will not be satisfied. And yet the sensory detail can immediately bring the experience of the landscape off the page for readers (I, for one, was completely smitten by the idea of polecats, who make an inconsequential appearance in the narrative but encouraged an online search) for this is not only a writer’s journey but a poet’s journey.


In some ways, the volume reads in a fragmentary way, emphasized by the inclusion of several actual poems, but there is a broader reaching narrative arc -- of return and departure and some early allusions (for instance, to his grandmother’s death by natural causes – flooding) -- which makes for a more encompassing reading experience.


Although an earlier work, and a work of non-fiction, readers who have enjoyed Michael Ondaatje’s later novels will recognize his delicate practice of darting towards and retreating from story, the circuitous knitting of characterization and setting alongside.