Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Ondaatje mentions the stories he learns from his relatives and interweaves them into his own narrative that he develops in a compassionate and humorous way. In this way he creates a wonderfully composed historical memoir that at the same time is permeated with a sense of inherent fantasy which helps harmoniously combine the generous information about Sri Lanka and its peculiar history and culture with reanimated tales about the authors father, mother, grandmother, and other members of his family. What adds to the magical perception of the book of Ondaatje is that while the narrative is to a large degree historical, Ondaatje’s writing style is largely poetic, which makes his story seem fictional. On ground of this, while we can term this work as autobiographical it is nevertheless far from being a conventional life story. Instead, consisting of seemingly disconnected and random episodes of varying lengths, being dotted with depictions of life in Sri Lanka, photographs from the family album, and pieces of poetry, the work is full of stories and first-person accounts from people other than the author. In fact, unexpected changes from the narrator’s first to narration by the third person can make us view the book authorship as belonging to a community rather than to a particular writer.
Now, while reading the book it is easy to forget that you read a life narrative, but after the book is over one may become even more confused about its interpretation. For one, the rich amalgam of anecdotes, songs, poems, photographs, and historical facts about Sri Lanka may leave a reader with somewhat disoriented, although excited, impression of the biography of Ondaatje being fictionalized, and the fiction being historically colored. Indeed, how else should a reader feel who has just witnessed an acknowledgement from the author himself that "in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts" (Ondaatje 1993, p.206) In this situation, in order to find a solid ground to interpret the Ondaatjes book we may resort to the recommendations for analysis of life narratives contained in the book by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson "Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives". Among the strategies for reading of life narratives they mention one which seems to be very helpful for our analysis. This strategy lies in the close attention to the correct understanding of a model of identity that an author employs in his or her autobiographical writing (Smith and Watson 2001, pp. 168-169). What makes me feel that this strategy promises to be fruitful in our case is the fact that from one point of view the book of Michael Ondaatje may seem to be properly postmodernist, as the postmodern literature, with its unconventional expanse and the praise of fragmentation among other things, seemingly correlates well with the method of autobiographic reconstruction based on the collection of fragmentary evidence that Ondaatje chose for "Running in the Family", for example when shifting from the narrator’s first to narration by the third person as we have mentioned. But this vision of Ondaatjes approach may imply that the author shares other well known