'During certain hours, at certain years in our lives, we see ourselves as remnants from the earlier generations that were destroyed...I think all of our lives have been terribly shaped by what went on before us.' Twenty-five years after leaving his native Sri Lanka for the cool winters of Ontario, a chaotic dream of tropical heat and barking dogs pushes Michael Ondaatje to travel back home and revisit a childhood and a family he never fully understood.
Along with his siblings and children, Ondaatje gathers rumours, anecdotes, poems, records and memories to piece together this fragmented portrayal of his family's past, his father's destructive alcoholism and the colourful stories and secrets of ancestors both disgraced and adored throughout centuries of Sri Lankan society.
In an exotic, evocative portrait of the heat, wildlife, sounds and silences of the Sri Lankan landscape, Ondaatje combines vivid recreations of a privileged, eccentric older generation with a deeply personal reconciliatory journey in which he explores his own ghosts, and how his family's extraordinary history continues to influence his life.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 256 pages, Illustrations map.
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date: 17/08/2009
- Category: Memoirs
- ISBN: 9781408801451
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Review by thorold
Elegant, multi-faceted account of returning to Sri Lanka and exploring his own and his relatives' memories of the life of a rackety, eccentric Ceylonese family in his parents' and grandparents' generation. As always with family memories, different people remember different things, and the picture doesn't quite add up: Ondaatje doesn't attempt to force it into artificial unity. Ondaatje visited Sri Lanka at the end of the seventies, before the communal violence became serious, and he only refers very obliquely to the political problems of the island. They don't belong in this nostalgic account of how things were, but of course you can't read the book without keeping in mind the contrast between his idyllic picture of the thirties and forties and the grim reality of the eighties.