Running in the Family – Micheal Ondaatje

“They could have almost drowned or fallen in love and their lives would have been totally changed during any one of those evenings”

Anecdotes, poems and memories paint a vivid image of award-winning writer Micheal Ondaatje’s return to Ceylon. Capturing the rambunctious, jolly nature of his extensive Burgher family, the reader catches a glimpse of the various characters who have played a significant role in Ondaatje’s life. His straightforward, no-nonsense way of relating events allows the reader to observe the character in a friend-like manner, witnessing all his/her antics and empathising with them. 

The novel starts with Ondaatje witnessing a dream that manages to successfully lure him back to Sri Lanka. Much of his father’s scandalous, drunken escapades make a significant number of appearances in the book. These may leave the reader in tears of laughter or a state of absolute horror. 

Certain parts of the book are fictionalised, as Ondaatje couldn’t possibly know the intimate details of certain events. This blurring of fiction and memory adds an interesting element to the novel and helps in bringing the characters to life. The main focus is on his father, Mervyn Ondaatje, and through this, it is evident that the author is striving to come to terms with the loss of the father that he did not get to know.  

A theme of nostalgia runs through the entire book. It is evident that this is what Ondaatje is feeling while penning the novel and through the intertwining of his writing, poems and photos that appear before the start of each chapter, does an effective job of swallowing the reader up in his nostalgia. 

The collection of various snippets from his past where the characters did as they pleased and life was uncomplicated, leaves one longing to go back to a time where things were much simpler. Ondaatje’s style of writing beautifully portrays the lighthearted merriness and the bittersweet endings in an effortless manner that anyone can relate to. 

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Author: Anuki Seneviratne
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