Intertwined Past

by capreviewroom

Alessia Giacobetti

Michael Ondaatje began his writing career in 1962 after a move from his native country of Sri Lanka to his current home in Toronto, Canada. Here he was immediately inspired to write his novel “In The Skin Of A Lion”; a story which is essentially based on the controversies of the rich and working class people of the 1920’s and 30’s, as well as Toronto’s rich and varied cultural history. Ondaatje puts a strong concentration on new immigrants, with their daily struggles, in contrast to the rich and their luxurious lifestyles. 

“In The Skin Of A Lion” is a combination of fiction and non-fiction. Where fictional characters such as Patrick Lewis and non-fictional characters such as Nicholas Temelcoff are placed within real historic events including the building of the Bloor Street Viaduct and the Filtration Plant. Throughout the novel we are bounced around and weaved in and out of the lives of many different characters who eventually cross paths and influence each other’s lives in various ways.

The novel  “In The Skin Of A Lion” begins with the protagonist Patrick Lewis as a curious young farm boy, and as the story progresses his and other character’s lives manage to become continuously intertwined. Patrick as a child is extremely fascinated by the foreign log camp workers, and his fascination only increases after a move to Toronto at age 21. Patrick’s strong interest in immigrants seems to mimic Ondaatje’s own fascination with the people and the hardships they endured. We are introduced to many different characters throughout the course of Patrick’s life. With some of these characters we are even allowed an in depth view into their own personal lives when Ondaatje chooses at parts of the story to tell it from their point of view.

Michael Ondaatje explores a wide variety of themes within his novel, including love, loss, discovery, friendship and many more.  He captures the reader’s attention with his shocking choice of words and occasionally vulgar subject matter. This is intertwined with scenes of explicit romance, exploited working men, and never-ending loss.

Throughout this novel there is an underlining of heroism within some of the characters; although as the story progresses it is difficult to determine whether these characters truly are heroes, or just doing what they believe they must to get by in life, such as Temelcoff and his work on the bridge.  Michael Ondaatje did a lot of historical research before writing his novel to insure that the history and characters were all accurate, for example he put a great deal of effort into making Temelcoff known for his amazing work on the bridge.

At times “In The Skin Of A Lion” can be a bit tedious to read with it’s slow pace in some sections, as well as being a little confusing with constant jumping from the present to the past. Over all though it is a fascinating and educational take on Toronto’s history in the 1920’s and 30’s with a creative fictional twist.

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