Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Running in the family by Michael Ondaatje

Canadian memoir

Source – personal copy

I decided to try something from my collection of books that aren’t translated I do have a lot on this pile more older writers I have previously liked and enjoyed so I decided to try and cut this down a bit over the next twelve months maybe one book a month from this pile so I decided to start with the booker winning writer Michael Ondaatje and his journey home to Sri Lanka or as it was then still called Ceylon and a memoir that looks at his extraordinary family and especially his two grandparents this book came out before his booker winning The English patient which is one of my favorite novels.

Francis de Saran had the most extreme case of alocholism in my Father’s generation and. always the quickest, was the  first to drink himselfinto the grave. He was my father’s and Noels closest friend and the best man at several wedding he tried to spoil. Unambitious and generous, he lost all his teeth young  something he could never remember doing. When he got into a fight he would remove his false teeeth and put them in his back pocker. he was in love for a while with Lorna Piachaud and started fightes all over her wedding reception. He attacked his own wofe and then, overcome with guilt decided to drown himself

One of his father’s friends is an indiction of the type of man his father was too.

As with most of his books, this uses memory as a springboard as we see him go back to his homeland he had left 254 years earlier before settling in  Canada his father a hard-drinking ex-soldier his a man he struggles to know so maybe visiting Ceylon and learning about his family will draw him closer. As he visits two times in the late seventies and 1980, in fact, these trips were around the same time my Auntie visited Ceylon I remember this as she brought me and my brother some wonderful kites made of paper. One of the characters he focuses on is his grandmother Lalla a woman who only found herself after being widowed at a young age when her husband passed when she was just in her thirties and the life of her friends and Neighbour Rene these two are a pair of merry widows. Lalla is a larger-than-life figure a joker a character that most families will have that life on long after they pass away.  then his grandfather on his father’s side his father meeting his mother and his parent’s marriage. The grandparent’s era is evocative the way he talks about it the last embers of Empire big parties the various cultures as a melting pot of life in the Ceylon of the twenties. A colorful and sometimes not a memoir more something between fiction and memoir it feels Ondaatje has called the book, not a history but a Portrait or a gesture and that is what it is one man looking for a past and trying to find out who he is and more.

So an hour later my grandmother, lalla, comes back and enterains everyone with stories of how she passed ships out there and the tell he David Grenire is dead. And nobody wants to break the news to his wife  Dickie is her sister. And she went and sat with Dickie who was still in a faint in the sand and  Lalla, wearing her elaborate bathing suit, held her hand. Don’t shock her, says Trevor, whatever you do break it to her gently.My grandmother waves him away and for fifteen minutes she sits alone with her sister, waiting for her to waken, She doesn’t know what to say. She is also suddenly very tired. she hates hurting anybody

His larger than life Grandmother with a hard task here


I love Ondaatje as a writer he has that ability to grab a reader and drift from place to place and to conjure up place whether in the English patient where he brought the desert and the villa in Italy so much to the life he evokes the Ceylon of the times now long gone his family ghost jump off the page. A place before the bloody history of the later part of the 20th century a country that has now gone and isn’t there. Ondaatje paint so well his grandparent’s era especially Lalla one of those larger-than-life figures every family has a woman that grew after her husband’s death so much. It also looks hard at his father at times a drinker and a man that he struggles to know his father is a figure from a different age maybe the last of that type of male it seemed to be a particular type of man that the Empire breed!  It also uses the memories well as it paints a more vivid picture than the facts those remember events places can be painter a little brighter a little more fun, a little bigger than they were as I said it is a memoir but use his writer’s flair to add to it. Have you read any books from Ondaatje?

Winstons score – +A nearly perfect book from a great writer.

Solitaria by Genni Gunn

Solitaria by Genni Gunn

Canadian Fiction

This is Genni’s third novel ,she has published other books as well .In solitaria she returns to her native Italy ,she lived there until she was eleven .THE story centres on the Santoro family .Piera the head of the family at the moment ,has to confront the past when her older brothers body appears when a house is being demolished She with draws and communicates only with a Canadian nephew David whilst the other siblings and family members fly in from around the world to find out .The question – what really  happen to Vito ? ,every one thought he had run off for a new life in Argentina .So who was Vito ? he was the black sheep of the family a wayward son of the family he had gone away before and returned and then gone off to Argentina .This story takes you into the heart of an italian family shows the inner workings that even thou they are hundreds of miles away at times family is still central to them .Genni said in an interview she used the life and times of her Italian Aunt that grew up in the 1940/50’s the same time as Vito  as part of the story for the book whom she interviewed a few years ago about her memories .the action takes place in 2002 in the Adriatic coast of italy .which happens to be where Genni lived when she was younger .

When  Vito returned to school, Mamma and Papa’s expectations grew ,but no matter how hard Vito tried ,he was never good enough .Pap got it into his head that Vito  was lazy ,and what began as an occasionl cuff on Vito’s ear advanced to full-fledged beatings if Vito did not perform as expected .

We are shown here how hard it was for Vito .

One of the things I love is the way the book has little snippets in it some from cha l’ho visto  this is an italian show / internet  site from the italian broadcaster RAI a bit like missing or crimewatch here it is to find out what happened to people .So you see screen shots made up as the case progresses .also some invite from another sister Clarissa that is a famous opera singer and diva .The book has a strong set of characters that seemed in some little way to have been drawn from real people ,Vito is the typical black sheep that may have become a prodigal son given time and a chance but he was already cast as a bad un , but had really been murdered all those years ago  ,you also get a sense of sign the one grand villa that is the family seat is now in need of some TLC but reminds you of those you’ve seen in many an Italian film . There is a quote on the reverse from an earlier Genni book that said she has a film maker eyes  and I totally  agree  with that view on solitaria I could see a lovely film of this book the flashbacks to the 1940/50s make for great film scripts and scenes . If you love the film cinema Paradiso you will love this book as well .The book was listed on the long list for Canada’s Giller prize (like a Canadian booker prize ) ,the short list is out tomorrow hope it makes it I was so moved by this book .Many thanks to Diana the Canadian publisher that sent me this to review .


Half blood blues by Esi Edugyan

half blood blues

Source – review copy from Serpents tail

Esi Edugyan is a Canadian writer she grew up in Calgary ,she studied at university of victoria and John Hopkins her short stories have been in a number of anthologies over the last few years  .This is her second novel .The book has been on Book at bedtime in uk and was just named on the Man Booker long list for 2011 .

I ll ask you a question you ever wondered what happened to the jazz musicians you see in cabaret or read about in the Isherwood Berlin novels ? .Well if you have this is the book for you ,it follows a group of jazz musicians in pre war berlin then in Paris as the german army heads to there .so we meet Hieronymus Falk a Black German jazz musician ,Sid,chip and Delilah  his band mates ,the story has two strands the first the story in the late thirties and forties firstly in berlin then in Paris as the band try to escape the Germany army .The second strand of the story   is Sid and Chip returning to German well Berlin actually  and then Poland in the nineties to try to find out about the old band mate Hiero  ,he was the one that was left behind as he was arrested just as  the others from the band got visa’s and managed to escape the clutches of the German army .We see the tensions with in this group of friends as the all have different ways of copying with fear of getting caught by the German army as they descend on the french capital .In the nineties Sid and Chip relive the past and what happened in the first place ,this leads to old wounds being opened and in the end a wonderful twist in the tale .If you like WW2 stories or Jazz music this book will appeal to you .

It  was the four of us living here.Delilah , Hieronymus , Chip and me .Couple months before we’d spent the day nailing black sheets across the flat’s window ,but damm if that grim sun didn’t flood through anyway .The rooms felt to stale to sober up in . We needed to sweat it out in the fresh air get our heads about us .Ain’t been no breeze in weeks .

Sid talking about the gang living in berlin .

I enjoyed this book ,I like little corners of  World war two ,like this one and until I read it I never really thought about the musicians you read about in the Isherwood’s  Berlin novels in them they were just mention Esi has focused on them ,another thing I rather daftly didn’t think about was there were black German citizens in the thirties in Germany .I enjoyed the interaction of the three main characters ,the book slowly build the tension of  the german army arriving ,and the later story shows how when time has passed we are willing to open up .So is this a book worthy of the book list ,well in my humble opinion yes it is in some ways it has classic traits of a booker book so I can see this hopefully making the shortlist .

Have you read this book ?

All my friends are superheros by Andrew Kaufman

Now this is Andrew Kaufman’s Debut a short Novel just over a hundred pages ,it follows a flight from Toronto to Vancouver ,the main characters are Tom and his superhero wife ” the perfectionist” ,the problem is that tom’s wife is unable to see tom after being hypnotized by her ex another superhero by the name of Hypno so since they were married see hasn’t seen tom ,thing he has run off she has decide to move towns to make her life perfect again as she is the perfectionist ,during the flight we find out via flash back how the pair meet and ,all about the bizarre collection of superheros from true superheros to slight faults like the girl who is always falling or the chip with a chip on her shoulder .

But the chip on chip’s shoulder weighs so much that only her super-strength could remove it ,but she can’t use until she gets rid of the chip and she she can’t get rid of the chip without using her super strength .she appears no stronger than any regular .


Tom sets out to find out how to become visible again ,first off meeting another couple of people who are truly invisible the blue outcast that is paint blue so he can be seen ,but gets no help there all his superhero friends are no real help so this flight is the be all and end all of the marriage .It took an afternoon to read this book ,it’s a wonderfully quick read ,the writing is crisp and very ,very funny it is such a long time since i have laugh so much whilst reading a book ,Kaufmann has a quirky humour it reminded  me of the early 90’s Canadian comedy series” kids in the hall .The question is what makes a superhero in this book is it special powers ? or are we all superheros and don’t know it and are just awaiting our superhero name ?


Well racoon seems best for this book ,crafty ,funny looking and very mischievous

I got this book via twitter from telegrams P.R also andrews new book “the waterproof bible ” thats due out next month

the brutal telling by louise penny

this is the fifth in the chief inspector Gamache series of novels and the first i have read ,it is an old fashion whodunnit in the vein of marsh,Christie and dexter .the action is centre in Quebec in the town of three pines .where a hermit has been killed and there is a great cast of suspects .enter Gamache and his loyal team where they set up shop in the local b&b and set about investigating the crime in the grand tradition the spotlight of who was the killer is constantly moving a the puzzle unravels ,the tea\m end up in the woods .where Gamache compares how the hermit lived to Thoreau in Walden as he spys a copy in the wooden cabin .the case moves on and expands above the small artistic community in three pines to ex pat czech and the artistic community leading to a thrilling climax which i leave the reader to find out.

       style wise it remind me of morse or the midsummer murders ,there is scope here to make a great television adaption Gamche is a deep and complex character in the vein of morse or Alleyn .this book refresh my interest in crime fiction which is a genre i have neglect for a long while .

      In the hour or so drive into Montreal Gamache and Clara talked about the people of three pines ,about the summer visitors ,about the Gilberts,who Clara thought might stay now.

 just short quote from brutal telling

the cover is a picture of a log cabin in some sinister woods with some spooky yellow writing with the title

June 2023


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