Michael Ondaatje Additional Biography


Philip Michael Ondaatje (on-DAHT-chee) was born in what is now Sri Lanka on September 12, 1943, the son of Philip Mervyn Ondaatje and Enid Gratiaen Ondaatje. His paternal grandparents had a successful tea plantation, and Ondaatje’s memories of his early life there with his large extended family and with his unconventional parents are reflected in his autobiographical work Running in the Family (1982). There he records the power that the beauty of Sri Lanka held over him. He evokes his grandparents’ lives in the tight-knit community of Europeans and describes his father’s losing battle with alcoholism, conveying both the comedy and tragedy of that battle.

Ondaatje’s parents separated when he was five. In 1952, his mother brought Ondaatje and his brother and sister to London, where he continued his early education at Dulwich College. Ondaatje, however, was unwilling to prepare for the O-level mathematics exam required by the English educational system. He was interested only in studying English, and at the age of nineteen he immigrated to Canada, where he joined his brother Christopher in Montreal.

Ondaatje entered Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, and majored in English and history. During that time, he began to read twentieth century poetry. He also met contemporary Canadian poets. These influences, combined with the enthusiasm fostered by one of his teachers, led Ondaatje to begin writing.

Ondaatje completed his B.A. at the University of Toronto, where his poetry attracted the attention of established writers. His work was included in an anthology of young writers, and he won the university’s Epstein Prize for poetry. The connections he made in Toronto led to the publication of his first book of poetry, The Dainty Monsters (1967). Ondaatje went on to complete an M.A. at...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Michael Ondaatje’s artistic interests extend beyond the novel to include poetry and film. The former interest informs his fiction with careful language. Ondaatje is quick to include words for technical elements of viaduct-building or words from Sinhalese, the language of Sri Lanka. His interest in history threads through his work at every level, as he incorporates historical events into his fictional worlds. His concern with film is surely part of his strong consciousness of the look of things—a painting, a sculpture, a rain forest, an old monk—all the vivid pictures which give his work its texture. Finally, Ondaatje’s novels are characterized by his indirection, his use of discontinuous time, and his occasional shifts in point of view. He asks for careful attention from his readers, and he rewards that attention with stories whose power lies not only in character and event but in the pulsing world his art creates.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Philip Michael Ondaatje (on-DAH-jee) is a popular and critically acclaimed Canadian writer. Known for their lyrical prose and unusual blending of genres, his works have been translated into more than a dozen languages throughout the world, won numerous awards and have, in the case of The English Patient, been made into an Academy Award-winning feature film. Ondaatje’s background is almost as unusual and exotic as his prose. The youngest of four siblings, he was born to Philip Mervyn and Enid Gratiaen Ondaatje in the richly diverse culture of Ceylon, an island that he claims, “seduced all of Europe.” An early ancestor, who took the name Ondaatje, arrived there in 1600, stayed, and intermarried. Ondaatje’s...

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Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), in 1943. Located off the southern tip of India and sometimes called India’s...

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Michael Ondaatje was born on September 12, 1943, in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). After his parents separated in 1948, Ondaatje’s mother...

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Michael Ondaatje Published by Gale Cengage

Poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje is perhaps best-known for his novel The English Patient, which focuses on an international group of...

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