Running in the Family
Reviewed: August 30, 2007
By: written and narrated by Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
2 hours on 2 CDs, $24.95
Audio production is the abridged version of Ondaatje’s fairly slender memoir of
his family’s life in Sri Lanka, which was known as Ceylon when the poet and
novelist lived there and in England before coming to Canada in 1962. Ondaatje
returned to the island nation twenty-five years after leaving it, and this
memoir became the occasion for a kind of history of his family, and a kind of
memoir of a time and place that no longer exists in quite that way.
very quaint, the life that Ondaatje’s parents lived in the 1930s and 40s, a
life filled with villas, beaches, tennis matches, jazz and a great deal of
alcohol. While it does not seem that the family had any particular wealth, yet
they attempted to live up to a style that said they did, and much of the book
deals with their leisure time, where they gambled, drank gin and danced the
tango in the moonlight.
father started out with a family fortune, but lost it through dissolute living.
There are a number of strange stories about him here, including the time he
took over an entire train, determined that there was a bomb aboard.
grandmother was an equally bizarre individual, and nothing about her could have
been stranger than the way she died, carried along the streets of her town by
the waters from a torrential flood and ending her life in the blue arms of a
is spiced up a bit by snatches of jazz from that era, perhaps chosen as a
substitute for the poems which fall between some of the chapters in the actual
book. Ondaatje seems to have selected some of the longer passages from the
book, which is filled with prose snapshots, so the narrative is not as
obviously disconnected and out of time sync as it appears to be on the printed
own work, Ondaatje voice is flat and matter of fact, seldom working up much
emotion, even as he reads of the terrific emotional upheavals in what appears
to have been an extremely dysfunctional family. Despite this, I would have to
say that the tone fits with the words, and I found myself falling more and more
into the time and place as I listened.