Philip Michael Ondaatje was born in 1943 in Sri Lanka. He later wrote of his unusual childhood in Running in the Family, a 1982 memoir. In it, Ondaatje explains that his family were British colonists who possessed a large tea plantation, as well as a spirit of adventure that this large extended family and their lavish colonial life passed on to him. The work won critical acclaim for the beautiful imagery which Ondaatje, by then an established poet, used to tell his predecessors’ tales.
His parents had ended their marriage while he was not even 10 years old because of his father was an alcoholic. In the early 1950s, Ondaatje moved to England with his mother and eventually studied at Dulwich College. Ondaatje, however, wasn’t happy with the education system, left to Canada and joined in Bishop’s University in the early 1960s.
He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Toronto, completing a B.A. in 1965. Graduate work was undertaken at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, from which Ondaatje earned a master’s degree in 1967.
The Dainty Monsters, (title borrowed from a poem by Charles Baudelaire), was one of his first published volume. Its first half poeticized some fantastical beasts and other worldly animals, such as the mythological beast known as a manticore (human head, lion’s body, dragon’s tail) that populated Toronto’s sewer system in one poem. Its second half, “Troy Town, ” featured interrelated poems based on tales from classical literature. The Dainty Monsters was extremely well-received for a small edition by an unknown poet, and made Ondaatje an important figure in Canada’s acclaimed new generation of young writers; the work has never gone out of print.
His first novel, Coming Through Slaughter (1976), is a fictional portrait of jazz musician Buddy Bolden. The English Patient (1992), set in Italy at the end of the Second World War, was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1996. Anil’s Ghost (2000), set in Sri Lanka, tells the story of a young female anthropologist investigating war crimes for an international human rights group .
Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto with his wife, Linda Spalding, with whom he edits the literary journal Brick. His new novel is Divisadero (2007).0