Running in the Family
by Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje, best known for The English Patient, returned to his native Sri Lanka (called Ceylon, when he lived there). The memories of his childhood, the places, people and the unique culture of Sri Lanka are evoked in this memoir. One is surrounded by the sights and smells of a very exotic and beautiful country; a politically different place than the new Sri Lanka, yet one knows the scents and sights have not changed. Although there is a blurring of fact and fiction, the portraits of his family are unforgettable. This book will definitely heighten your desire to step foot on this island at the tip of India.
"Eloquent, oblique, witty, full of light and feeling. … Ondaatje’s knowledge of the fragility and luck of life is very clear. So, too, is the grace and originality of his prose.” – The New Yorker
“A beautiful, luscious book. Michael Ondaatje has depicted his extraordinary family, who delighted in masks and costumes and love affairs that ‘rainbowed over marriages’ in the kind of language that makes glory of their lives. He has gone on a poet’s journey to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the reader who travels with him enters a truly magical world.” – Maxine Hong Kingston
"Drought since December. All across the city men roll carts with ice clothed in sawdust. Later on, during a fever, the drought still continuing, his nightmare is that thorn trees in the garden send their hard roots underground towards the house climbing through windows so they can drink sweat off his body, steal the last of the saliva off his tongue. He snaps on the electricity just before daybreak. For twenty-five years he has not lived in this country, though up to the age of eleven he slept in rooms like this – with no curtains, just delicate bars across the windows so no one could break in. And the floors of red cement polished smooth, cool against bare feet.“ – From the Introduction, Running in the Family, Vintage edition, 1993.
On Sal Mal Lane
by Ru Freeman
If you read On Sal Mal Lane and Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje you will have a rich background for a trip to this small and colorful country. Ru Freeman writes with lyric beauty of a village and its inhabitants: Sinhalis, Tamils and Muslims. We learn about the problems between the religions that have caused so much trouble; but we also watch the characters interact with kindness and friendliness toward each other. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of the children, and this works well as a novelistic device. There are many fine descriptions of the culture, food and everyday life of the people.
“A rich sensory novel. … I don’t know that I’ve seen children more opulently depicted in fiction since Dickens.” – Cristina Garcia, The New York Times Book Review
"Lovingly written, historically rich and compassionate to all sides of the turmoil." – Kirkus Reviews
“On the day that the Heraths moved in to the last empty house on Sal Mal Lane, the one located exactly at the center where the broad road angled, slightly, to continue uphill, the Herath children happened to be learning hymns and hallelujahs from their mother. The children’s mother, Mrs. Herath, herself a staunch Buddhist, was given to taking on other faiths based solely on the musicality of their songs, faiths of which she partook like others tasted of side dishes, little plates piled high with crispy fish cutlets and vegetable patties.” – On Sal Mal Lane, Greywolf Press, 2013 edition.