Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje: Review

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

by Jyota Suzuki

Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian novelist who comes from Ceylon, and his masterpiece is The English Patient. It won the Booker Prize in England and brought him great reputation. Running in the Family (1982) was written after Ondaatje returned to his native land, Ceylon. He lost precious memories of his family after immigration to Canada. In this book, Ondaatje focuses on the loss of cultural identity, and importance and dynamics of family life.

The story mainly starts after Michael Ondaatje returns to his hometown. As he meets various friends and relatives, he struggles to understand the relationship between his father and his family members. Mervyn Ondaatje, Michael’s father, has a bad drinking habit and caused some incidents. Lalla is a bad mannered grandmother and powerful woman. She often steals flowers from the neighbor’s garden, but she is liked by everyone.

The Ondaatje family had lived in Ceylon for centuries, so Michael has a large number of relatives who live there. They live in oppressive heat in Colombo, so they often go to the urban city, Nuwara Eliya to escape it. Each member especially Mervyn and Lalla experience strange or happy things in their hometown or Nuwara Eliya.

Mervyn Ondaatje takes care of his family well so he is a great father. However, local people hate him because of his alcoholism. Once, he hijacked a train to meet his friend who couldn’t make it on time. This was caused by his alcoholism.

Lalla is also well known as a powerful woman. She enjoys drinking a lot, like Mervyn Ondaatje. As a result, she suffers a poor life, but she often holds parties for poor children. She is very kind to other people as well as her own children.

The writer Michael Ondaatje doesn’t refer to political realities in Ceylon. He prefers to focus on family stories, but these aren’t simple family memories for him. People don’t notice that these simple daily things are important memories in a busy life. Michael Ondaatje becomes aware of the importance of his identity with his family through a journey through Ceylon.

Running in the family by Michael Ondaatje
253 pp, Sairyusya, ¥2100

Jyoya Suzuki is a third-year student in the Department of British and American Cultural Studies.