Sunday, August 17, 2014

Running in the Family

Some weeks ago I finished reading a book that I had picked up from the swap section in a cruise ship's library. When I travel I take a bundle of op shop purchases away with me and dispose of or swap them along the way but I could not bear to part with this one so it travelled with me over many days and through a dozen countries. It has now been reposing on my desk waiting for me to tell you about it

On our trip we visited Sri Lanka and that was what made me select this book that recounted the author's return to his native land of Sri Lanka. I imagine that the fellow traveller who had ditched the book purchased it for local knowledge. I did not realise until I reread the blurb that it was actually a family history book.

In Running in the Family Michael Ondaatje (first publishedin 1982 - my edition was published by Vinatge Books) tells in a series of short vignettes tales of his parents, ancestors and families. As he travelled around Sri Lanka Ondaatje met and interviewed family members, friends and work colleagues of his parents. There emerged stories of  love, passion and divorce, drunkenness, wild parties and hair-raising car and train rides. For me the stories didn't flow so well from one to the other but the writing was superb. After reading a few ordinary crime novels it was a treat to read this small book and savour the stunning use of language, the prose was delectable.

If you ever contemplate writing a family history book take a peek between the pages of this tome to see how beautifully you can telll your family tales.

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