Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

September 10, 2011
By MerebRussom SILVER, Springfield, Virginia
MerebRussom SILVER, Springfield, Virginia
9 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Running in the Family is a memoir written by Sri Lankan born Michael Ondaatje and is perhaps the most oddly written novel I’ve ever come across. This novel is essentially about a man who travels back to his homeland of Sri Lanka on a quest to dig up his family’s past and his late father’s mysterious life. Though the storyline appears to be a setup for an unpredictable and gripping tale, the quirky style of Ondaatje takes the readers in a thousand different directions.
Running in the Family is not a conventionally written novel to say the least. Rather than having a continuous and chronological story, Ondaatje breaks up his journey into mini chapters- similar to vignettes. It may be a bit frustrating for readers as there seems to be no clear connection between the chapters- it all feels like a set of random memories and stories from Ondaatje’s family past. While the lack of connection may stir up frustration in the readers, it also keeps the readers on their toes as they try to figure out what will come next.
While many can easily characterize renowned authors as vivid or profound, it’s best that Ondaatje be described as eccentric, even random. One chapter may be a free verse poem about cinnamon peelers, while another vividly describes his father’s drunken attempts to hijack a moving train. Ondaatje is able to make his readers laugh out loud, furrow their eyebrows in confusion, and even cringe with gruesome details of the traditional dinner of a baked lizard tongue. With his unusual family stories and poems, Ondaatje also gives the readers strong insight into the exotic and fascinating culture of Sri Lanka.
In the end, this novel is a puzzle, with each chapter serving as a distinct piece in an author’s unique family history. With no true plot but plenty of strange tales and humorous bits of information, Running in the Family comes together as a true work of art.

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