Posts tagged ‘Toronto’

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stories one can appreciate the importance of the setting and how it adds to the reality that is not spoken of in the historical documents which illustrate the building of the Viaduct and Waterworks.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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February 2, 2011

Evoking Emotion

by Jessica Brodeur

“In the Skin of a Lion” is a multi-layered piece of literature that invites the reader into the complicated life and times of Canada in and around the 1920s. By touching on bits and pieces of Patrick Lewis’ life and the lives of those around him, Michael Ondaatje takes the reader on a back and forth, even “cubic” journey as the story jumps around in time and space. The development of Toronto itself – mainly the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant – gives a concrete and historical time line and setting. The reader quickly learns that the book is much more than just a document – that it evokes struggle and hardship, love and loss, and deep feeling. Patrick Lewis’s romantic relationships lead him to meet unexpected friends and make even more unexpected connections as he digs in the past. His strong emotions – be it love or remorse or revenge – take him down a path oh which he can never turn back .

The book read in a sense like a play. The characters, besides Patrick Lewis himself, seem outlandish and exaggerated. Exact moments, even habits and auras come easily to the imagination as one reads. The dialogue is powerful and, as much as a book can be, ranges in volume. Although the setup is choppy in style, each scene is a sort of stage on which the characters appear at different points throughout their lives. In its three-part style,  a little bit of suspense is built and some surprise twists appear. Even the costumes and makeup can be imagined vividly as gritty, rancid, and often gruelling work is described meticulously to outline the livelihoods of bridge builders, tunnel diggers, bakers, dyers, and criminals. As much as these passages add to the story, Ondaatje was also attempting to immortalize the workers that helped poor the foundation of Toronto a century ago.

Throughout the book, Ondaatje scratches the surface about issues of social inequality and exploitation, racial relations and migration, but he never dives fully into a deep commitment with this. This is characteristic of his style: leaving plenty to the reader to interpret, put together, and follow up on.

Relationships are the key to understanding Oondatje’s intentions and the development of the plot and cast. Connections of dependency, love, brotherhood, and even searching for someone the character has never even met are explored. The hope is that the reader will experience the sensual nature of the relationships as they shape the storyline, that emotions will be evoked as the story is told. Poetry and prose meet in a moving way to play out the story of “In the Skin of a Lion.”

February 2, 2011

In the Skin of a Lion Review

by spencersmyl

             “In the Skin of a Lion”, a novel written by Michael Ondaatje, illustrates a brilliant and imaginative lure of history, passion and opportunity in Toronto during the 1920s. This highly descriptive novel conveys a vividly accurate representation of this time period. In a time rich with immigration, innovation and imagination, the reader is taken through the life of Patrick Lewis. Through Patrick, Ondaatje develops a story of interconnected relations in which progress throughout the novel, adding depth and a sense of realism. In-doing-so, the reader is taken to different periods in Patrick’s life. Beginning in the hinterland of Ontario, where Patrick learns curiously from his father and the surrounding of his home town, in which he will later put to use. He then finds himself years later in the city of Toronto, where he finds love and romance with the already taken Carla Dickens, working hard labour jobs, lost for the linchpin of love, arson, and prison. From these challenges that Patrick faces throughout the novel, Ondaatje is able to construct a literary discourse that displays an environment tantamount to that of 1920s.

                 It is the descriptive writing of Ondaatje that truly brings the mood of the 1920s to the reader. Scoping from long in depth passages to the laconic structure of sentences is how Ondaatje is primarily able to develop his novel in such a way that displays the decade in an elegant and intrinsic way. He intricately describes the historical beauty of Toronto through the hard, bitter, and demanding work of the largely immigrant working class. These people who built the city through the visions of others went largely unrecognized with little historical documentation in real life. What Ondaatje does is he creates a world using Toronto’s historical infrastructure, such as the Bloor Street Viaduct, and gives these workers a sense of background and depth. Without the labour from these workers it would have been impossible to have Toronto where it is today, and Ondaatje offers genuine tribute to these workers by representing them through the mood and theme of his novel, using Patrick as his vehicle.

            Throughout the whole novel the reader will not be disappointed with Ondaatje’s literary prowess of his poetic and novelistic skills. As he seemingly under develops parts of the plot, it allows the reader to fill in the gaps with their imagination, creating a somewhat hybrid vision of both Ondaatje and the reader. Ondaatje, in the bigger picture, gives sense of meaning and story to the historical development of Toronto in the 1920s. If you as a reader enjoy a poetic and novelistic contrast of history, passion and opportunity then Michael Ondaatje’s “In the Skin of a Lion” is your next read.

February 2, 2011

Deliberate Confusion

by jessicamethven

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje is a historical novel set in Toronto during the early 20th century. The main character, Patrick Lewis is introduced as a young boy. The next chapter Patrick appears, he has reached adulthood and has taken on the job of a searcher. He is in search of Ambrose Small, a missing millionaire. Along his journey he falls in love with various women who are connected to one another. Patrick finds himself working a variety of different jobs throughout his life time. His battle with love is a reoccurring theme that is tested at the end of the novel.

There is a sense of confusion during the first part of the book, leaving the reader to feel lost. Ondaatje forces the reader to trust everything will come together and eventually make sense; even though some chapters seem to be completely unrelated. This novel forces the reader to really pay attention, and sometimes re-read pages because of the confusion being felt. The novel is not always being told from the main characters point of view, making it seem unclear in some chapters. This creates questions to arise for the reader, causing them to step back and think about what has just been said, and by whom. Ondaatje is able to pull all the elements of the story together and allow the reader to make connections between the chapters. The ending of the novel does not give a clear definite answer or ending, forcing you to imagine what happens on your own.

The historical references are realistic to the setting of Toronto; The Bloor Street Viaduct Bridge, and the Toronto Water Treatment Plant. Ondaatje’s imagery and description makes the reader feel as though they are there; watching what is going on. The work described going into the building of the tunnels, and the pain the workers endure with each strike at the earth as they, “dig underneath one of the largest lakes in North America,” has extreme imagery.

The sexuality is very subtly intertwined in the novel that it becomes shocking to read. The blatant form of writing does not allow the reader to embrace what is about to be said. When Patrick is a young boy he enjoys catching fireflies with one of his handkerchief, “years later, Clara making love to him in a car, catching his semen in the handkerchief and flinging it out onto the bushes on the side of the road.”

In the Skin of a Lion is a difficult read that requires a lot of concentration and patience. Ondaatje is able to create confusion, historical referencing, and present blatant sexuality in a way that ties the story together; keeping the reader wondering. This love story is anything but typical. The deliberate underlining sense of confusion forces the reader’s mind to wander. Frustration is felt throughout this novel and is continues past the final lines of the novel.

February 2, 2011

Don`t Judge This Book By It`s Cover…

by deenaliguori

I am the type of person who judges a book by its cover. When I took a first glance at Michael Ondaatje’s book In the Skin of a Lion I was kind of puzzled and unsure of what the book might hold. After reading the back of the book I had a sigh of relief because it mentioned that the book was about a fictional love story. After seeing the cover of the book I wasn’t too sure how everything would tie together. The first character we are introduced to is a man named Patrick Lewis who happens to be the main character in the book. Patrick moves to Toronto, Canada from his birth place in Ontario in hopes of helping with the creation of the big city of Toronto, along with many other immigrants. As the years go on we get to view Patrick’s new life along with the hardships, love and victories he faces along the way.  At first I found Ondaatje’s book a bit hard to follow at times and my mind would often wander unsure of what was going on. As the book progressed I soon started to realise how this twisted love story would slowly come together.

One thing that I found different about this book was the way it was split up into three parts; book one  book two and book three, each both with chapters about Patrick’s life. I thought this was a nice touch and everything seemed to still flow and fit together, which made the book that much more intriguing. I found the first book of In the Skin of a Lion to be slower and have less action than the second and third parts of the book. Since the ending of the book is more fast paced and never had a dull moment I found the book hard to put down especially nearing the final pages.  One other thing that was hard to follow was the excessive amount of characters and trying to figure out how each one came into play and their relationship with Patrick.  I also felt that Ondaatje’s writing is something I am not use to due to his vast imagery.  Ondaatje’s imagery is so real and believable that it scared me at times. I felt like I could close my eyes and be right there with Patrick. Since Ondaatje is a poet I felt that it was reflected in his story in the sense that this is visually beautiful story to read and seemed to flow like a poem.

I feel this book isn’t for everyone; you have to go into it with an open mind and allow yourself to get lost in it. This book is filled with touching moments that would not make the average person stop and smile and reflect Ondaatje ’s true meaning. Lastly this books theme will teach you about the relationships people share, and who people become because of them, as you never truly know where life may take you.

February 2, 2011

Love defines who we are

by alexvyates

Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion is a fictionalized account of life in Toronto during the 1920‘s, seen through the eyes of Patrick Lewis, a former logger who comes to the city searching for Ambrose Small, a millionaire theatre magnate who has vanished. During his search, he falls madly in love with Small’s mistress, Clara Dickens, and meets her friend, Alice Gull. Years later, Patrick returns to Toronto without Clara, where he finds work, friendship and a new lover among the city’s new working class, mainly non English speaking immigrants from Macedonia and other Eastern European countries.

The novel is an in depth, imagined look at the people who helped build Toronto into the mega city it is today. Several of the characters portrayed in the novel are based on real people who greatly influenced the creation of Toronto, but as a reader we feel that everyone could have been a real people: they have flaws, long complex histories and relationships, and all of them deal with love in various ways, like all real human beings do. Ondaatje’s characters are so incredibly brought to life that we lose ourselves in the story and forget that these are made up individuals and that their lives are therefore make believe.  Love and the complexity of relationships between lovers and friends is a common theme of In the Skin of a Lion.

“He had always wanted to know her when she was old.”

This quote is thought by Patrick Lewis, and it shows how truly deep and profound his love was for the woman in his life. His dream of a perfect life was destroyed, and the man he becomes after he loses her is nothing like the man he was when this woman was in his life. For it is love, or the lack of it, that drives and defines Patrick. Without the love of this woman, he is a fragile shell of his former self. Events will always happen that we can not control, and it is how we react to those events that create who we are. Seemingly innocent and random events have great impact on the lives of the people of In the Skin of a Lion. And like in real life, the line separating love from lust is constantly blurred in this story.

Michael Ondaatje has created a beautiful story showing the lives, loves and relationships of some of the thousands of people who helped create Canada’s most populous city. He reminds us that love and our relationships with the people in our lives have profound impacts on who we are and what we do, whether they be for better or for worse.