Running in the Family: Chapter Notes ¡V Don¡¦t Talk to me About Matisse, Part 1
Tabula Asiae ¡V Sweet Like a Crow
Tabula Asiae (p. 63 ¡V 64)
The narrator talks about the ¡§false maps¡¨ on his brother¡¦s
At the end of the chapter the narrator shifts his focus from
¡P Ondaatje travels to a local church to further investigate his family history where he discovers the Ondaatje name is engraved on the church¡¦s floor.
¡P Ondaatje briefly introduces the four eccentric Ondaatje brothers of the late 1800s Simon, William, Matthew and Philip who could not talk to each other without arguing thus continuing this chronicle of a quirky family and their history
Monsoon Notebook (i) (p. 69 ¡V 71)
¡P This is a notebook style series of seemingly random entries recording Ondaatjes actions, thoughts and reflections such as his ¡§obsessional sarong buying¡¨
¡P The setting of the notebook in the monsoon season where rainstorms that flood streets for an hour and suddenly evaporate and where walking for five seconds in the rain would leave you thoroughly soaked, gives this section a disjointed but quintessentially exotic, Sri Lankan feel.
Tongue (p. 72 ¡V 75)
Ondaatje walks along the beach with a group of children who
This prompts the recollection of the anecdote about
Ondaatje¡¦s Uncle Noel who was forced to eat thalagoya
tongue even though he got very sick and almost died. Not only does this give us
an insight into the traditions and myths of
Sweet Like a Crow (p. 76 ¡V 77)
¡P This poem is essentially a list of different unpleasant aural images that may be intended (given the initial quotation which describes Sinhalese music as the worst in the world) to describe Ceylonese music, speech, culture or even the island itself.
¡P The poem concludes, however, on the melodic noise of ankle bracelets heard in sleep which suggests that perhaps, despite its unusual sound (unusual at least from the perspective of the Western colonial powers), there is something charming and graceful about Ceylonese music and perhaps therefore, Ceylon in general.
In ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ the author once again discusses rumors and myths
however this time we see a parallel between the history of Ceylon constructed
by the European colonisers and Ondaatje¡¦s own attempt
to reconstruct the history of his family. The rumors create a sense of
Marriages briefly reappear
as a motif in the ¡¥
The ¡¥Monsoon Notebook (i) chapter is rich with water imagery including ¡§wet sand¡¨,
the ¡§curl of a wave¡¨, the ¡§rainstorms that flood¡¨, the ¡§sweat falls [that] in
the path¡¨, the ¡§steam after the rains¡¨, the ¡§gleaming with underwater
phosphorus¡¨ and the ¡§thunderstorm we walked through¡¨ that left them ¡§thoroughly
soaked.¡¨ This imagery seems to be used to emphasise
the exotic power of the rain in
In ¡¥Monsoon Notebook¡¦
there is also a succession of rich sensory images such as the ¡§eighteen ways of
describing the smell of a durian¡¨ and as a result Ondaatje decides to ¡§smell
things for the whole day, it was so rich I had to select senses¡¨ which once
again reinforces the exotic intensity of
¡§cherubs,¡¨ ¡§slipper-footed elephants,¡¨ ¡§conch,¡¨ ¡§satyrs,¡¨ These symbols give
the reader an image of Classical grandeur. Especially because these images are
drawn on the sides of the maps and around the drawing of the island, it seems
as though these are the inhabitants of
Topography and Map Making (Cartography)
Topography is especially evident in Tabula Asiae.
The line ¡§fifteen-cent sandals and the obsessional sarong buying¡¨ echoes Kegalle (i) (56), where Michael¡¦s grandfather ¡§became a real part o the landscape around him¡¨ ¡§when dressed in sarong and vest¡¨, as opposed to his typically English clothes. It seems as though his obsessional sarong buying also makes him one with the land as he can ¡§witness everything¡¨ and be a part of so many of these wild experiences.
The engraved name
¡¥has a rasping tongue that ¡¥catches¡¦ and hooks objects¡¦ ¡¥if a child is given a thalagoya tongue to eat he will become brilliantly
articulate, will always speak beautifully and in his speech be able to ¡¥catch¡¦
and collect wonderful, humorous information.¡¨ ¡§the
tongue should be sliced off and eaten as soon as possible after the animal
dies.¡¦ These are traditional, local practices. The fact that eating it makes
you very sick shows the western colonial ideas that
The crow in ¡¥Sweet like a
Crow¡¦ appears to be a symbol for
Post-Colonialism and the Contrast Between the East and West
Throughout ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ Sri Lanka is associated with richly fantastical imagery, for example it is described on the map as having a ¡§blue-combed ocean busy with dolphin and sea-horse, cherub and compass¡¨ or ¡§naive mountains, drawings of cassowary and boar who leap without perspective across imagined ¡¥desertum¡¦ and plain.¡¨ The mythical imagery of ¡§slipper footed elephants¡¨, the ¡§white queen¡¨ and the ¡§Moorish king¡¨ paints a picture of Ceylon as some kind of exotic paradise ¡K and while there are elements of truth in this they are also mixed up with ¡§rumors of topography¡¨ and ¡§routes for invasion and trade¡¨ which suggests the ultimately exploitative intentions of the Western map makers, such as the Portugese, the Dutch and the English who eventually colonized the island. Ondaatje may also be mocking the superficial and exaggeratedly stereotypical ideas of the colonizers.
The title of the chapter,
¡¥Tabula Asiae,¡¦ could also be a reference to the
board game Tabula which is very similar to modern backgammon. Tentatively it
might be argued that the movement of the pieces may echo how the possession of
The poem ¡¥Sweet Like a Crow¡¦ can also be read from a post-colonial perspective. The initial quotation from Paul Bowles which says that ¡¥The Sinhalese are beyond a doubt one of the least musical people in the world. It would be quite impossible to have less sense of pitch, line, or rhythm.¡¦ shows how Western critics fail to see the beauty in Ceylonese music. However, from a perspective other than the Western there may be something charming about the discordant nature of Ceylonese music (perhaps like the strident voice of a child) and this is reflected in the title of the poem as in general, crows are not considered to have melodious voices but here, after continued exposure, they are described as sweet.
The Search for Personal Identity
does take advantage of the ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ chapter to
explore the original identity of the Ceylonese people and the closest he comes
is hinting at the inextricably intertwined nature of the Ceylonese and the
invades when he states that some of these colonizers stayed and were rewarded
with land, wives and new titles. This suggests that Ondaatje does not know the
true nature of the Ceylonese identity and as a result we sense that neither
Post-Modernism, intertextuality and the impossibility of obtaining objective truth
The ¡§sightings¡¨ and
¡§glances¡¨ that were used to construct the maps on Ondaatje¡¦s brother¡¦s
wall in ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ make it clear that these maps
are something subjective and therefore unreliable. This is reinforced when
Ondaatje says the shapes of the maps ¡§differ so much they seem to be
translations¡¨ which creates the idea that the explorers who created these maps
never quite managed to obtain a clear image of
In ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ the Post-colonial and Post-modern themes that run
throughout the memoir are clearly overlapping: the presumption that Sri Lanka
was a ¡¥blank slate¡¦ reveals the arrogance of the European colonizers but the
idea that a country, a history, a people are a ¡¥text¡¦ that can be written in a
variety of ways each of which might reveal a different kind of truth is clearly
a post-modern ideal. Similarly the changing
In addition, Ondaatje uses documents from the past combined with details that he couldn¡¦t have found in those documents which makes it clear that at least part of the story is invented / reconstructed ¡K reinforcing the post-modern idea that this text is a creation of the author, that it is just one kind of view on the world and that there is nothing special or privileged about this view and another one could be equally valid.
Romanticisation of the Past
In ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ the different names of
The most interesting and noticeable use of a distinct narrative style is in ¡¥Monsoon Notebook¡¦, which is written in a disjointed and almost random fashion. The effect suggests that Ondaatje has recorded bits and pieces of information in his own notebook, hence the seemingly inexplicable juxtaposition of ¡§reading torn 100 year old newspaper clippings¡¨ and ¡§watched leopards¡¨. This hint at the process through which Ondaatje has constructed the memoir is an obviously postmodern element of the text and the fact that we are given an insight into the initial (selective) process of taking notes and the (implied but again selective) secondary process of deciding which notes to expand on and include in the final memoir once again reinforces the constructed nature of this text.
The poetic style of ¡¥Sweet Like a Crow¡¦ is representative of the disjointed structure of the majority of Ondaatje¡¦s poems in this memoir. There is no regular rhyme scheme or regular rhythm pattern and this may be Ondaatje¡¦s challenge to the dominant Western conception of what poetry is supposed to look like. From a post-colonial perspective Ondaatje¡¦s avoidance of traditional poetic structures may represent an intentional challenge to the cultural dominance of Western art forms and an attempt to reassert the value of traditional, non-Western art forms.
Ondaatje often writes in first person and yet hardly mentions himself at times. This perhaps suggests a detachment or distance between the author and his experiences possibly implying his inability to fully reconnect with his Ceylonese heritage. Alternatively it may reflect the post-modern idea that although the text seems like a factual description of what is going on it is inevitably (even if only subtly) a description from the perspective of somebody and so therefore the illusion of objectivity is revealed for what it is: little more than a subjective account pretending to have more universal validity than it actually does. Post modernists might point out that we can never have a truly valid, objective and neutral account of the world as the world always has to be seen from someone¡¦s perspective and this will always, unavoidably colour that view and make it unreliable.
Relation of this Section to the Whole
This section begins by reinforcing the post-colonial feel that has been established throughout the memoir so far but eventually it focuses more on the attempts by Ondaatje to re-construct this history of his family. As such the emphasis in these chapter is more on Ondaatje¡¦s personal journey rather than what he finds out about his past. Revelations about the relationship between Mervyn and Doris are put on hold which creates a form of tension as the reader knows that the couple divorce but we are unsure why and Ondaatje may have structured his novel to switch back to the present at this point so that he can delay the revelation of details of the break up for as long as possible.
Additionally this section continues to romanticize the past and draws parallels between the colonial romanticisaton of the blank slate of ¡¥Tabula Asiae¡¦ and Ondaatje¡¦s romanticisation of his family history and life in Ceylon in the 1920¡¦s and 30¡¦s.