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"Running in the Family" by Michael Ondaatje.

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Amina Qureshi Honors English - per. 3 October 1st, 2003 "Running in the Family" by Michael Ondaatje ORAL PRESENTATION Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family is a novel about exploring boundaries, especially, the boundaries between different style of writing and specifically the boundaries of genre. I will be looking at these different genres and explaining the effect that they have on the memoir itself. The limits of genre are explored by combining photographs with literature, poetry with prose, and history with fiction. Our sense of expectation is probed by the presentation of this book in fragments without transitions, by titling sections misleadingly (for example, the section called "Honeymoon" fails to mention Michael's newlywed parents) and by hinting at events which are explained only much later in the novel. This blurring of boundaries is shown in bundling together of fact and fiction, past and present, to create a portrait of the free and uninhibited people of Sri Lanka. While Ondaatje narrates an understanding for his family's history, re-conceptualizing the past while piecing together a family history, he creates his own form of 'reality,' his own 'truths,' his own genre in a way by challenging boundaries and pushing the border between fiction and reality with passages, or even chapters that evade a simple generic categorization. ...read more.


A faded photograph and a sentence later the narrator uses first person narrative, and enters the next chapter to announce that "What began it all was the bright bone of a dream I could barely hold onto." Ondaatje' uses first person narrative to show that it is in fact HIM that is the exile and it is this that is the exile's dream of return to a place called Ceylon which is vaguely-remembered but vividly imagined. Ondaatje uses a third-person narrative at the start to show the longing for knowledge of his past, something that is now just a fading memory. The photographs help to show concrete proof in the middle of gossips and twisted truths. The fading of the photographs enhance the impersonal idea that Sri Lanka, in the mind of Ondaatje is simply a place that he recalls living. The place, to which Ondaatje tries desperately to return, a fiction called Ceylon, appears to have no present in Ondaatje's mind but is built up in layers of memories piled upon memories. Ondaatje begins to define the boundaries of his search by creating his own reality, his own genres to satisfy his curiosity by employing his own words to describe events. Another reason that this novel is individual is because it includes poetry in the middle of a memoir of self-discovery. ...read more.


The Monsoon Notebooks in this book show the style of writing known as "Stream of Consciousness," which is simply direct writing from the brain. This style of writing helps in dealing with Ondaatje's various internal and external conflicts without any regard to logic or argument. The effect of the monsoon notebooks are a sense of how rich Ceylon is, culturally and environmentally and the nostalgic mood of forgetting all these things during his childhood which is shown through Ondaatje's writing when he states, "One morning I would wake and just smell things for the whole day, it was so rich I had to select senses." The stream of consciousness in the Monsoon Notebooks expose Ondaatje's inner conflict of not witnessing events while growing up and only to return to them when they are a vague bundle of gossips and scandals. They are written in this style to show that Ondaatje is sitting down to write the very text being read and putting himself and the reader in a certain place and time and bringing himself closer to his book and audience. And by doing that, it is easier for the reader to relate the book to Ondaatje, which is further compounded by occasional first person speech within the stories of his book and more so in the reactions he gives to them. The stream of consciousness technique helps in showing the chaotic nature of the entire memoir and shows how impossible it is to record thoughts coherently. ...read more.

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