Michael Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1943 into a family who hobnobbed with other upper-class members of what was once Ceylon's colonial society. His Dutch, English, Sinhalese and Tamil heritage is filled with reminiscences linked by the engaging phrase "and there is another terrible story.'' One foul relative was "savaged to pieces by his own horse.'' A botanist ancestor introduced the olive to Ceylon. One grandmother was known to take an occasional swig of eau de cologne and was famous for being the first woman in the country to have had a (totally unnecessary, as it happened) mastectomy. Ondaatje's father, Mervyn, was a tea- and rubber-plantation superintendent whose alcoholism sometimes led to spectacularly maniacal and embarrassing public scenes, such as pulling revolvers on trains and forcing them to run back and forth at his pleasure. For a time his mother, Doris, a rather strong-willed woman, performed radical dances inspired by Isadora Duncan. After his parents' divorce, Ondaatje moved to England with his mother and then on to Canada, his home since the 1962, and became a Canadian citizen. He lives in Toronto and teaches at York University. Awards for his writing include the Booker Prize, 1992, for The English Patient.
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