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In The Skin Of A Lion (1997)

In the Skin of a Lion (1997)

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3.88 of 5 Votes: 4
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0679772669 (ISBN13: 9780679772668)
vintage books

About book In The Skin Of A Lion (1997)

In the Skin of a Lion is a striking and spellbinding piece of literature. It poses questions that deal with our humanity and makes us question our perspective. The book takes place in the 1920’s and 30’s, and follows Patrick Lewis, an immigrant to the city of Toronto. Through his character we are given insight into the lives of immigrants, workers and marginal individuals that helped build the city. These men and women molded and shaped Toronto into what it is today. Ondaatje sheds light on the fact that these people are not represented in history yet play an essential part. Therefore, in the book, storytelling is a central aspect. To make up for the historical oblivion, Ondaatje emphasizes the importance of local and personal narratives. Although the book is fiction, it is based on real events and places, such as the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct on Bloor Street. Ondaatje paints the picture of this vibrant and teeming immigrant community in Toronto. He immerses you in the hardships of workers and the unjust contrast between the rich and the poor. This novel definitely depicts some main aspects of humanity, such as the importance of language and community, the power of dreams and the value of human life. However the novel may not be for everyone. The story is not told in typical linear or chronological order. It is woven intricately together with a blend of places, characters, events and voices. Ondaatje himself paints an accurate description, illustrating Patrick’s life as, “no longer a single story but part of a mural” and “a wondrous night web- all of these fragments of a human order” (145). Ondaatje is a writer like no other; his work is eloquent and poetic. Immediately, the novel pulls you into a surreal state, where reality and dreams are blended together. It can get confusing at times as the book jumps around, but in the end it all comes together. As Ondaatje explains, "only the best art can order the chaotic tumble of events. Only the best can realign chaos to suggest both the chaos and order it will become" (146). That is exactly what the novel is, chaotic and disorderly yet beautiful. The novel is full of hidden meanings, symbols and connections that require careful attention and reading between the lines.The best part is that the characters have complex personalities that make them seem life like. Ondaatje strives to make them live off the page, even explaining that concept in the novel.“Patrick never believed that characters lived only on the page. They altered when the author's eye was somewhere else. Outside the plot there was a great darkness, but there would of course be daylight elsewhere on earth. Each character had his own time zone, his own lamp, otherwise they were just men from nowhere” (143).Not only that but the characters are completely memorable and unique. Such as a vanished millionaire and his mistress, a nun with a new identity, a thief with a charmed life and a daredevil bridge builder. Each person has his or her own valuable story to tell that is entwined in the plot.This novel is insightful, brilliantly written and definitely a worthwhile read.

In the Skin of a Lion is a hazy, dreamlike novel, which transports its readers to the city of Toronto in the early 20th century. This is the time when countless immigrants came to the city - escaping misery, wars and poverty that was their daily life in the Old World. The glimmering lights of the New World shore brightly across the ocean, and they journeyed across it for weeks, seduced by their promises of a new and better life. These masses of immigrants - often poor and uneducated - built, formed and shaped the city into a vibrant multicultural metropolis that it is now. They had only their hopes and dreams, but they also had the will and strength to make them real. The hard labor of these men and women is directly responsible for the creation of countries that have since developed and prospered, but the very people who made them are mostly unmentioned and forgotten by history.Ondaatje's novel is fiction, but filled with real events which took place in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada during that time: the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct between Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue; suppression of workers strikes and demonstrations by the police chief Dennis Draper; the murders of Viljo Rosvall and Janne Voutilainen, two Finnish-Canadian labor unionists, and the mysterious disappearance of Ambrose Smalls - a famous theare magnate who owned several venues across Ontario, and whose disappearance was never solved (even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was involved in it at one time, but ultimately chose not to pursue the case). Oondaatje apparently spent months in the City of Toronto archives to research material for the novel - and the best part is that a lot of material has been digitized and can be accessed online here, allowing us to see Toronto's history for ourselves - including the earliest known photographs of the city.Ondaatje introduces several characters, some of which will appear again in his later novel, The English Patient. Sometimes their stories touch and correlate and sometimes they don't, dissolving like wisps of spider silk in the early morning sunlight. I suspect that years from now it will be difficult for me to remember the details of the novel, but what will stay with me are the images Ondaatje manages to conjure swiftly and without any real effort: a group of Scandinavian immigrants skating across a frozen river in a small town in Northern Ontario, defying its wilderness and iciness; wind throwing off a nun from an unfinished bridge, and a brave builder who risks his life to save her; a man escaping from prison and into the country, staying by himself in remote lakeside houses, the silence and vastness of the area having an almost preternatural quality. Is this how pioneers felt?Like many immigrants the novel searches for its own goal but doesn't find it, leaving us with a collection of brief insights into the lives of its characters and surrounding. Still, Ondaatje in places writers well enough to warrant an extra star, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

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In the middle of this novel, Ondaatje writes:"The first sentence of every novel should be: "Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.'"And this seems to be Ondaatje's philosophy about his novels. I read this book because we are headed to Toronto at the end of August, and this was described to me as the "quintessential Toronto novel." However, I found myself scanning pages and anxiously hoping that I would get to the end. Not signs of a good novel for me!Some passages I found intriguing--notably the ones about the workers building the viaduct, tunneling under Lake Ontario, and laboring in the tannery--Ondaatje has a knack for describing the dirtiest and most dangerous sorts of work and helping the reader understand what it is like. Ondaatje is a poet, and some of his writing I found beautiful.He had a few strong female characters in the story too.I have a certain amount of tolerance for novelists flitting from one character's perspective to another, or one point of time to another. But this book made me dizzy. I was hoping that I would have a better understanding at the end of how it all fit together. Many goodreads reviewers describe this book as one of their favorites. It's very arty and avant garde: not really my cup of tea, I suppose.

I got through the first fifty or so pages solely because of the poetic language of this book. Otherwise I would have meandered my way, got lost somewhere, looked around for help, and finding none, tossed the book away. I am not a big fan of so many characters, so many voices, and so much happening in a book. But with this one I remained patient. And lord I'm I not grateful. It seems that I have been richly rewarded.This is book is set in Toronto in the '30s. And except for Patrick, the main protagonist, the other dominant characters are mostly immigrants, whose lives and toils are described with painstaking detail, but still subtly sensual. In fact, Patrick ends up feeling like the outsider in a cast of men and women that are ready to make it by whatever means; in a masculine new world that is neither merciful nor apologetic.Which brings us to the dominant theme. History. And the place of the seemingly insignificant. Ondaatje makes us care for what part that these small people, those who build the cities with their ill remunerated labor, and lost their lives in the course, played in making this history. It is a book with many pleasures, romantic and poetic in part, and greatly rewarding for anyone who wishes to read some thought provoking stuff. Dig in, with patient and assurance that you'll be rewarded in the end.
—Moses Kilolo

Honestly, I utterly despised this book. I had no end of people telling me that this was one of the most divine, perfectly written books EVER. What I saw when I read it was literary masturbation. I'll concede Ondaatje has an elegant way of stringing together lots of beautiful words and phrases and moments, but I don't think that that alone can make a book. Others have said they think the characters in this are so real as to make you utterly devoted to them. I struggled to sympathise with a single one. This felt to me like Ondaatje had a lot of beautiful images in his head that he wanted to string together, but had no cohesive, workable story, so instead, he opted for the pastiche of past and present, from the perspectives of a dozen different people, so he could get them out but hide the fact that the story was weak.

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