Growth- by Nina Scholz

by capreviewroom

‘In the skin of a lion’ is a fictional novel by Michael Ondaatje first published in 1987. It is a story about love and growth. Ondaatje is looking to capture the sense of life that was Toronto’s beginnings. The reader follows the story through the eyes of the main character Patrick Lewis, whose life is touched by the immigrant workers that helped build Toronto in the early 1900s. It is a fantastic attempt to give names and stories to the workers and the conditions in which they worked in.

The story starts with Patrick Lewis as a young boy, as he lives in a little village with his father. He watches the loggers come every winter, hears their strange accents and can’t, at this point, quite pin point why they are different. Patrick learns how to work with dynamite by working with his father, this, as almost all parts of the story, plays a vital role at a later part of the novel. As it says at a later point “He carries out the old skill he learned from his father-although then it had been in sunlight, in rivers, logs tumbling over themselves slowly in the air.”

Through Patrick Lewis’s life, we get a thorough understanding of the city, the working conditions, as well as other people around him. Ondaatje describes in detail aspects that help emphasize what he is trying to tell us about these immigrant workers. “As the day progresses heat rises in the tunnel. The men remove their shirts and hammer them into the hard walls with spikes. Patrick can recognize other tunnellers on the way home by the ragged hole in the back of their shirts.”

Two women, who have an impact on Patrick and the story in very different, yet interesting ways, intersect Patrick’s life at various points. His love for either is captured in a beautiful and yet painful way that leaves you wanting to know more about their lives. The novel is fantastically written, using flashbacks and sections, Michael Ondaatje really ties together the book step by step, allowing the reader to grow with the story, never giving away the ending prematurely.  It is a great read that leaves you wondering whether seemingly small occurrences at the time, may play a greater part in the future- just as the immigrant workers were ignored then, but have now been giving names and a story through Micheal Ondaatjes ‘In the skin of a lion’.

Micheal Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada in the 1960s after having lived in England for a while. It is interesting to note, that Micheal Ondaatje is an immigrant himself. This could explain, why he wanted to write a novel that would give a face to the immigrants that helped build Toronto. Ondaatjes’ research for the novel lead him to spend quite some time in the Toronto City archives, where he found a lot of pictures of the process of building the city, however, the men who were building it, were not mentioned; they were just faces with no names, their story was never told.

 

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