Posts tagged ‘history’

March 21, 2012

Ondaatje Brings Light to Toronto Immigrant Struggles at the Turn of the Century – Clint Ledding

by capreviewroom

The novel In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje is a collection of short stories with each story focusing on different timelines and/or different characters. The key character is Patrick Lewis who appears in neary every story. We start off with “Little Seeds” which dictates the youth of Patrick as he grows up in Ontario. We leave Patrick behind in “The Bridge” while we see the building of the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, Canada. The important characters in this story consist of Nicholas Temelcoff and Alice. Temelcoff saves Alice from certain death when she falls off the bridge that he is working on, both of these characters will be key later on in the novel. “The Searcher” and “Palace of Purification” take us back to Patrick Lewis as he falls in love with a woman named Clara, who then leaves him for another man, and then after Clara leaves, Patrick finds Alice, who was in fact a friend of Clara’s, at a play in the Waterworks. Alice will die later in the end of “Remorse” and Lewis will commit an act of arson out of rage for her death. We pick up on Patrick in “Caravaggio” where he is a secondary character to the thief Caravaggio as he escapes prison and finds love and trust in a woman named Gianetta. The novel ends with the story “Maritime Theatre” in which Lewis is reunited with Clara after attempting arson once again in which Caravaggio and Gianetta assist him.
To really grasp what the novel is truly accomplishing one must know what Ondaatje set out to do. It is clear that Ondaatje is writing this novel to give faces to the faceless migrant workers that helped shape the landscape, both culturally and physically, of Toronto both as we know it today and as it was known during the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct. Once one accepts that this novel is about giving an entire culture recognition by slicing lives of individual migrants into digestible short stories one can appreciate the importance of the setting and how it adds to the reality that is not spoken of in the historical documents which illustrate the building of the Viaduct and Waterworks. This is well illustrated when in “The Palace of Purification” the workers who built the great monument use it themselves for something as important to them as a play which dictates the oppression that they, the builder of the very city they inhabit, are subject to every day. Patrick not only attends the play but enters it and becomes emotionally involved with the plot to the point he has to go up on stage and stop the spectacle himself as is shown on page 118, “Then he was up on stage … He leaned forward , caught the hand still trying to smash down again like a machine gun locked in habit…”.
When one takes themselves through the history of the building of these great structures, one does not come across names of those who died during building. There are no casualty lists or statues that recognize the effort and loss off hundreds upon hundreds of immigrant workers who helped built the structure of the society and the physical landscape equally as much as those who worked from within city hall. In the regards of bringing these immigrants to life and illustrating their importance to the city of Toronto and the fact that without this book that they are missing from the pages of history, Ondaatje did extremely well. The fact that the book is as enjoyable and interesting a read as it is while it has the overbearing task of taking into account a whole culture being a missing link in the historical documents makes it all the more of a success. This novel is extremely impressive because it has such an intense mix of purpose and entertainment. With lasting impressions and more than enough food for thought this novel is worth a read as it is almost a cultural staple and is essential for those who want to understand how important immigrants were during the turn of the 20th century.

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March 10, 2011

An island without voice

by tunghsin

A Small Place is a short 81 page, non-fiction travel writing and personal history set in arthur Jamaica Kincaid’s small native Caribbean island Antigua. When browsing in the bookstore it is highly possible to find A Small Place under many different categories such as autobiography, politics and history. Furthermore, People may expect a novel written by a Caribbean native, is a story about personal struggle and the uncivilized conditions they lived in. However, it is written in short chapters that could be presented as individual essays with the main focus of the view of the native Antiguan to the tourist, or the view of any natives to their modern invaders.

The historical text is presenting through Kincaid’s highly subjective personal point of view to the extent in which Kincaid addresses the reader directly as “you”. The arthur’s negative depiction of tourist is very obvious throughout. She seems to chastise Americans and Europeans for being able to afford to remain in luxurious accommodations and to enjoy a week of sun and fun. The accusatory tone and message make me as a reader feel offensive and think twice before travelling to Antigua. Furthermore, the writing seems plainly written yet has underlying meanings. For example, the comment of the American tourist in the novel is made to depict the tourist as ignorant and superior feeling towards the natives. Kincaid not only focuses on the irony of all the beauty the tourist sees as compared to the poverty of those that live there and work for these industries, but also discusses the dilapidation of their cities and infrastructure after gaining their independence back from their European colonizer. Hence, this is a classical tale of post-colonialism with the struggle of a nation and its people to be independent from been held captive as slaves, yet struggling to find balance from governmental corruption.

Overall, Kincaid’s pointed words are very powerful. She successfully introduced and educated the tourists of the Caribbean native’s point of view and their life stories to create more awareness and voice to the world. I strongly encourage you to take part of Kincaid’s adventure in Antigua, a small place.

(357 W)

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February 2, 2011

In The Skin Of A Lion, a beautiful blur

by alanahansen

Michael Ondaatje, Canadian novelist and poet is arguably best known for his passionate imagery, impacting use of metaphor and peculiar vision. Ondaatje’s breathtaking poetic novel In The Skin Of A Lion (published in 1987) is a remarkable narrative which conveys the stories forgotten by history, the nameless faces, the sweat, the blood and the tears rooted in the historic creation of a city.  This novel, one of history, romance and friendship captivates through Ondaatje’s powerful language, pulling the reader into anarchic Toronto during the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. The reader enters into the laborious lives of the immigrants and minorities who built the city, the ones whose hearts remain embedded in the concrete.

Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion is broken up into three parts, each providing intricate and passionate connections between them. The novel begins with the unusual entrance into the childhood life of Patrick Lewis. His childhood, silent and desolate brings forth the absence of identity, proving to be significant, the true meaning behind the title In the Skin of a Lion. Patrick embarks on a journey, a journey of finding his own identity, his own personal story.

As Patrick parts from his childhood he moves to Toronto as a searcher where he crosses paths with a fearless baker, a wealthy man, a stunning actress, a passionate nun and a daring thief whose lives intertwine, serving as stepping-stones towards Patrick’s moment of transformation.  Patrick encounters romance and friendship, impacted by each story as he progresses. Ondaatje’s incorporation of several interlaced stories also emphasizes the hardship and struggle that was endured during the construction of the city.

As Patrick seeks for self-discovery, Ondaatje’s true motive approaches the surface, emerging from his extensive metaphors. Ondaatje draws attention to the fact that there is more than one version of reality. He aims to tell the story through the eyes of someone with little known identity, through the silenced unhistorical voices of Toronto; the ones that no one knew existed. “A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame” (172). Ondaatje exemplifies the issue of history and interpretation by incorporating John Berger’s epigraph: “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one”(3), voicing that no story should stand-alone. By incorporating mini narratives within the novel and by knitting together the different characters Ondaatje leaves the reader feeling challenged and bewildered.

Ondaatje beautifully blurs our idea of what is real and what is imagined, contrasting fact with fiction, leaving one unsure of what he or she has just read. With the use of his unique language, there is a certain harmony provided between the three parts. Although a complicated read, Ondaatje provides the reader with a thoughtful entrance into the novel, allowing he or she the opportunity to flow through each chapter. The dreamlike atmosphere in the third section is elaborate and is not ideal for the narrow-minded. His use of metaphor leaves the reader dazed but also allows for reflection as we discover that the end of the novel is truly only the beginning of the story.

April 1, 2009

Shelve under mysterious

by Aurelea

By BrendanBrooks

I spend my days opening boxes and placing books on shelves. Occasionally someone out in Toronto gets a book classification wrong and a history book winds up in cooking. The interesting thing about A Small Place is that it is hard to, well, place. You could put it into travel.

Lodge it in the section right between the Lonely Planet and Rick Steves and you might do alright. The problem is anyone looking to visit the place flipping through the first few pages might be turned right off. Put it with the travel pectorals? No probably not. The picture are faded and washed out. Plus there is only four of them so it won’t quite work out. Although the picture in this book could probably tell you more about the place than anything else on the shelf, if you are willing to look. So how about history? Well no that won’t do either. The small little vignettes of island life and tourist life might classify but there is one small problem. Your average history book 500-1000 pages of hard cold facts. At just over 80 pages A Small Place might get dwarfed really fast.

Fiction? No there is nothing remotely fictional about the subject matter within the book. If anything the book it almost too honest and truthful to the point of uncomfortably. What about the business section you ask? Well as a study on the impact of tourism on a community and livelihood you might have a point. Most business books are about making money fast or currently surviving an economic downturn however and A Small Place lacks the numbers and equations to do so. Maybe in the teen section then? Well you need to ask yourself a few questions first. Does it contain Vampires? Dragons? Cliquey teenage girls? Is it based of a recent television show on the WB? If you didn’t answer yes to any of those questions then I don’t think the teen section is the best place for your book. What about the Computers section? You are joking right? Although stranger things have happened. I think I have the section for you in the end. Cultural studies. There is no question this book looks at two distinct classes of people. There is the gaudy over fed tourist and the exploited island inhabitant and how their interactions affect each other. And though you now find yourself in the same section as Nome Chomsky or Naomi Kline I think the things you have to say about the impact of ignorance on a culture fits right in. so enjoy your new found home. That is until someone comes along and decides you would sell better in cooking.

January 27, 2009

The Fortunate Traveller

by ashleywestenberg

Ashely Westenberg

A Portrayal of the Third Horseman: FAMINE

“The Fortunate Traveller” displays beautiful and tragic ironies of the relationships between races and cultures; exposing the truths and horrors of famine, greed and the ingenuity of the Catholic Church. Derek Walcott is an incredible writer who has the ability to say one word and create a thousand emotions. “The Fortunate Traveller” is the story of a man who leaves his simple life and finds himself overwhelmed by his new one; that of a traveller engaging in international relations. The common theme of this particular story by Walcott is the injustice of famine; again and again Walcott points out a variety of ways of how the world “have not charity”.

Walcotts’ protagonist is plagued by the things he sees; this is also ironic because many think he is “so fortunate to see the world”. The sadness surrounding his travels is undeniable. Walcott captivates the reader by continually exposing truths that are humbling and horrific. For me, reading “The Fortunate Traveller” brought up many emotions, yet pulled me in closer, breaking down personal barriers. Walcott is able to capture his purpose in this particular quote : “and the brown globe crack like a begging bowl, and though you fire oceans of surplus grain, and have not charity.

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January 21, 2009

Jean Rhys

by chantalstrand

By Chantal Strand

Derek Walcott’s Jean Rhys examines a snapshot of British colonial life, focusing on a family in which there are several generations of women, each struggling with the conventions and expectations of the times. Through the application of sensory images, Walcott uses Jean Rhys to illustrate the effects of repression on women of all ages, and succeeds in expressing a fear as to the stillness and silence surrounding the past, present and future of a woman’s place within a man’s world. In choosing to name his poem after Jean Rhys, a Dominican novelist whose writing centered around wayward women and their struggles within structured societies, Walcott makes his purpose clear from the start.

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