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Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 207 pages
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Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje is a travel and family memoir (highly recommended by Beth Kephart), and he says that it is a composite of two return trips to Sri Lanka, formally known as Ceylon, in the 1970s, as well as endless stories and questions-and-answers from family members and those that knew his father Mervyn best.  Michael is among the youngest of the family, having left Ceylon when he was 11 after his mother and father divorced.  Much of this memoir borders between fiction and truth, but like all memories and perceptions, the story of someone’s life can be as fluid as the relationships that begin and end with and around them.  The crux of this memoir, in which Ondaatje embarks on his own journey of remembering about his family and the country he came from, is about the fluidity of memory and the inability to truly know even our closest family members.

“What began it all was the bright bone of a dream I could hardly hold onto.  I was sleeping at a friend’s house.  I saw my father, chaotic, surrounded by dogs, and all of them were screaming and barking into the tropical landscape.  The noises woke me.  I sat up on the uncomfortable sofa and I was in a jungle, hot, sweating.”  (page 21)

Ondaajte’s magical realism shines through in the narrative, particularly as he takes trips to the former family home and into the jungle.  There are humorous anecdotes about his grandmother, Lalla, who clearly had a love for life and freedom.  There is one incident in which she doesn’t realize her breast is being fondled by a stranger on the bus, but the reasoning is something very unexpected.  His father and grandmother did not get along well, and whether that is because Mervyn is a victim of dipsomania, also known as alcoholism, or Lalla’s inhibition after her husband’s death that enables her to do as she pleases without one thought to the consequences.  

More than anything, Ondaatje’s memoir is about learning about his family’s outrageous past in a time of excess (1920s), but also realizing that there are mysteries about the interconnectedness of their lives that may never be resolved.  He must come to terms with what he knows about his family through his own memories and that of others and what will always remain a mystery — how can he reconcile the two.  But this is not just all prose, he also illuminates some of the family stories with poetry.  Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje is sparkling in the jungle, a bead of sweat that slithers down your arm and seeps beneath the skin and causes a startling chill.

About the Author:

Michael Ondaatje is one of the world’s foremost writers – his artistry and aesthetic have influenced an entire generation of writers and readers. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. His transcendent novel The English Patient, explores the stories of people history fails to reveal by intersecting four diverse lives at the end of World War II. This bestselling novel was later made into an Academy Award-winning film.

Mailbox Monday #220

Mailbox Monday (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. May’s host is 4 the LOVE of BOOKS.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received for review:

1.  The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero for review from Penguin.

Roberto Ampuero’s novels starring the wonderfully roguish Cayetano Brulé are an international sensation. In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures—Pablo Neruda.

Cayetano meets the poet at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. As Cayetano fumbles around his first case, finding it hard to embrace the new inspector identity foisted upon him, he begins to learn more about Neruda’s hidden agenda. Neruda sends him on a whirlwind expedition around the world, ending back in Chile, where Pinochet’s coup plays out against the final revelations of their journey.

2.  Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick for review for TLC Book Tours.

Our Held Animal Breath is a collection of poems grappling with the failure of human political and social structures to effectively address the dilemmas of our crucial historical moment.  Registering an eco-feminist consciousness, the narrators of these poems expose the intertwined vulnerabilities of women, animals, and the land to masculinist agendas of mastering nature for profit.

Poems in the opening section explore the ways powerful elites compromise the habitats of human and non-human animals alike.  The lives of tethered foxes, bewildered squirrels, displaced buffalo, and factory-farmed turkeys echo the lives of ordinary citizens experiencing degradation and disenfranchisement in the face of climate change, war-mongering, and political corruption.

3.  Marilyn’s Red Diary by E.Z. Friedel, which came unexpectedly from Meryll L. Moss Media that will likely find a new home.

Based on shocking new information, MARILYN’S RED DIARY documents Miss Monroe’s roller-coaster final years, culminating in her murder.The star, yearning to become a mother, suffers several miscarriages. Distraught, she becomes infatuated with the Kennedy’s, only to be brought down by their enemies. Through her renowned psychiatrist, Marilyn’s medical problems, drug use, and cause of death are explained.

In June of 1960, on the urging of psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe begins keeping a diary. The former foster child feels unloved, unfulfilled, and unappreciated. Professionally, she wants to be considered a serious dramatic actress. Her husband, honored playwright Arthur Miller. has penned THE MISFITS script for her next project. Emotionally, she fervently hopes for a child to begin her family. Despite several pregnancies, Marilyn has been unable to carry to term. She blames her supportive older partner and her own severe gynecological scarring. Extremely promiscuous, she remains hopelessly in love with John Kennedy, the dashing Senator who is beginning his presidential campaign. After a decade long affair, they are once again hot and heavy.

4.  The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje, which I got at the library sale.

Michael Ondaatje’s new selected poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, brings together poems written between 1963 and 1990, including work from his most recent collection, Secular Love. These poems bear witness to the extraordinary gifts that have won high praise for this truly original poet and novelist.

5. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole from the publisher for a TLC Book Tour.

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.   March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love.

But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.   June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

What did you receive?