In The Skin Of A Lion


Paperback | June 18, 1996

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In the Skin of a Lion is a love story and an irresistible mystery set in the turbulent, muscular new world of Toronto in the 20s and 30s. Michael Ondaatje entwines adventure, romance and history, real and invented, enmeshing us in the lives of the immigrants who built the city and those who dreamed it into being: the politically powerful, the anarchists, bridge builders and tunnellers, a vanished millionaire and his mistress, a rescued nun and a thief who leads a charmed life. This is a haunting tale of passion, privilege and biting physical labour, of men and women moved by compassion and driven by the power of dreams -- sometimes even to murder.
Author of eleven books of poetry, four novels and a fictionalized memoir, Michael Ondaatje was born in 1943 in Colombo, capital of the British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Of Tamil, Sinhalese and Dutch descent, he was the youngest of four children. He grew up during the halcyon days of colonial Ceylon on the Kutapitiya tea estate,...
Title:In The Skin Of A LionFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:256 pages, 8.01 × 5.23 × 0.65 inShipping dimensions:8.01 × 5.23 × 0.65 inPublished:June 18, 1996Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0394281829

ISBN - 13:9780394281827


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great A great novel. Unique. Great fiction. Can be a bit slow paced compared to some of the newer books.
Date published: 2018-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Truly one of the best Canadian novels ever written! Poetic and consuming! Ondaatje is a complete genius and has written an eloquent and eventful post-colonial story...that everyone should read!!!!
Date published: 2018-05-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A poetic read Ondaatje's language is quite unique. Having read some of The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, I found his fiction to be as rich as his poetry. He plays with language in a way that not many people do and, while being completely different to Maxwell, there is an innate quality in both author's fiction that somehow make them seem alike. Superb.
Date published: 2018-01-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not my cup of tea Didn't really care for it. Read it for an assignment and could barely get through it. Tedious.
Date published: 2017-11-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Meh There were moments I enjoyed, but overall I was pretty bored.
Date published: 2017-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Extraordinary Journey This novel is rich... by this I mean that this book as so much depth that in my personal experience, it took me quite a long time to truly experience the novel and frankly I only experienced a fraction. Ondaatje's work is brilliant! For me, this definitely wasn't an easy read but it was enjoyable!
Date published: 2017-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Must Read Canadian history, compelling story, beautifully written prose.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Phenomenal Work I read this for school and I'm glad it was on the syllabus because I would not have read it otherwise. It's reminiscent of The Great Gatsby at times if it were about how the other half lives. Ondaatje tells the stories of the people that do the jobs that we don't want to to do and of what these people feel, think, and dream about. It tears apart the notion that one story can express everyone's experience. Ondaatje's prose shows the layers of the experiences of so many different people in such a stunning and heartbreaking manner. This is a must read.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 10/10 One of the best novels ever written. Ondaatje is a genius and has written an eloquent and eventful post-colonial story.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book Really loved this book and getting the history of how Toronto was built. It may not be true but knowing where buildings and street are made this book so much more relatable.
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful novel Ondaatje's writing is like a photorealistic memoir of growing up and shaping Toronto in its industrial years. Even better when you realize it's the pre-quel to The English Patient!
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing book! I loved it! a very poetic read! Slightly suspenseful and I love the fact that it connects to Toronto. Whenever I pass the Braodview Bridge I always think of this book.
Date published: 2017-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is my favorite book. EVER! I can not say enough good things about this book. It is a masterpiece, it is brilliant, it is perfect. Go read it now! I loved this book more than I loved the English Patient.
Date published: 2017-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book Well written and very interesting story.
Date published: 2017-03-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable Really well written, pretty interesting story. A bit tedious at times but overall a pretty good read.
Date published: 2017-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable This book jumps around a lot and can get confusing at times if you don't pay attention. I found myself sometimes having to read certain parts through a couple of times to really get what was going on but I really did enjoy this book.
Date published: 2017-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Canadian Classic This is Ondaatje's best novel, and if you're only going to read one of his books, this is the one I'd recommend. One of the best Canadian novels ever written.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ondaatje's Best I've now read all of Michael Ondaatje's novels and this is my favourite. The imagery is remarkable, and the story enthralling. The depiction of Toronto is particularly noteworthy for its detail. I tend to prefer poetry to fiction, but Ondaatje's writing is too tempting to pass up. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Historical fiction at its best! In the Skin of a Lion is on of my favourite historical fictions. This story is based around the construction of the Bloor-Danforth viaduct in the new world of Toronto in the 20’s and 30’s. Maybe I am a little bias being from Toronto. But the history was fascinating and this book was so well written.
Date published: 2014-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Book Ever I have read this book a few times - it is a Classic as far as I am concerned - Ondaatje's narrative is so descriptive that I can see those streets in my mind. As a resident of Toronto it was fabulous to get such descriptive history. I purchased this book this time around for a friend who is a recently new inhabitant of Toronto.
Date published: 2014-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book! “In the Skin of a Lion” is a book that grabs you and drags you in, not letting go as you move along the paths of the various characters and all that they create and endure. Set between the 1920's and 1930's, it tells a moving, and amazingly haunting tale of men and women during the new age of construction and immigration in Toronto. The feel, and the imagery of the book is exceptional - Michael Ondaatje depicts both the amazing, and horrific situations and settings his characters encounter, and he sweeps the reader up along with them. Truly a great dramatic novel!
Date published: 2011-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Work In Progress It was interesting to see Ondaatje's writing skills seemingly increase through the progress of the novel, starting simple and straightforward and seeming to develop the complexity and abstract thought as the book moves on - always a pleasure to become a part of one of Mr. Ondaatje's books. Local Toronto history is nicely entwined in the novel's plot.
Date published: 2008-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An intricate read This was a novel assigned to be read for my higher level IB english class, and truth be told, I sincerely did enjoy this novel. I have read many reviews that claim the novel to be 'difficult to understand and tedious'. Admittedly, there are many portions which are unclear and leave the reader wanting some form of understanding and closure. However, I do believe this is a work that is to appeal more to emotional senses in different parts rather than as an actual story. The beauty in the work lies in the images and sentiments that are evoked, the characters have not been defined for the purpose of allowing the reader to interpret them as they deem necessary. I suppose for the logical mind, this novel does not appeal, things do not progress accordingly and there is not a definite structure. However, for all who wish to experience something different and unique, this work is perfect.
Date published: 2006-01-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Deeply disappointing I was really looking forward to reading this novel -- I loved the English Patient (the movie), I had heard wonderful things about Michael Ondaatje and since I live in Toronto, (near the bridge described in the novel), I really did want to like this book. But honestly, I think watching the snow melt in my backyard would have been a more pleasurable experience than reading this book. And just so you know, I don't generally read fluffy books -- I have a degree in English Literature, so I've read (and enjoyed) my share of ponderous, weighty, well-crafted novels. I found the first 50 pages one of the most cruelly tedious introductions to a novel that I have ever read in my life, but I trudged on and did find brief (all too brief) glimpses of magic. In particular, I was drawn in by the interplay between Clara and Patrick. In fact, Ondaatje is at his best when writing about relationships and at his worst when describing scenes with painstaking, mind-numbing detail. Yes, he's evidently done his research and so, can confidently drone on about the 'rivets, sheering valves and crown pins' involved in bridge building, but quite frankly, who cares? There were a number of events in this novel that I just found so implausible, as though their only very obvious purpose the furthering of the plot. In particular, the scene where a nun is improbably blown off the edge of the under-construction bridge, only to be magically, single-handedly plucked out of the air by Temelcoff, hanging below in his harness, made me throw down the book in dismay. Then to add to the silliness, although Temelcoff has had his arm ripped...out of its socket by this Superman-type rescue, the two traipse on down-- not to the hospital as one would imagine would be necessary-- but to a Macedonian bar to drink brandy and say not much of anything to each other. Oh brother! Although others have described Ondaatje's style as lyrical, I just did not feel that at all. I found so much of the writing stilted, choppy and self-conscious. The dialogue frequently banal and senseless. Here's a random sample: -You awake? -What time is it? she said -Still night. -Ahh. -I love you. Were you ever in love? Apart from Ambrose? -Yeah. If you want to read a truly talented Canadian author who really does have a lyrical sensibility, read any of Margaret Atwood's books.
Date published: 2005-12-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Tedious Read It is probably the reason that I am not at the level reading this kind of poetic novel. It really is a tedious read that makes me about to fall in asleep with the eyes open. It is really hard to read, follow and understand. When I read til page 50 from the start, I still found it tedious and unfathomable. It is probably not my type ..
Date published: 2005-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed Like a few others here, I found this book a tedious read. I suppose that for certain people, "In the Skin of a Lion" would indeed be a great poetic experience, but for those of us that read not for the art of the sentence but rather the art of the story, I issue a word of warning. I found that the plot (which could have been great) was put under a great deal of strain by Ondaatje's narrative style, and was only able to finish the book on a hope that somehow it would all come together and make sense. After two readings, it still hasn't. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Date published: 2004-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic novel! A lot of people seem to have misunderstood the importance of this novel (Myself included. I had a prof explain all of this to me). It is meant to be read by every Canadian, because it challenges a lot of literary conventions. The story is not simply about a thief, or a detective. Ondaatje tries to break the mold of telling stories through a top-down narrative (telling a story through heroic figures, significant events, important individuals, etc.) He tries to informs us that history is one version of reality, usually heavily swayed by money and power. That is why he picks to tell the story through the eyes of a detective, a thief, and a millionaire. He wants to bring awareness to the way in which people were affected by monumental events. Caravaggio is not simply a thief, he is also representative of the way society tries to silence controversial artists (that is why he gets his throat slashed). Ondaatje also tries to bring awareness to the problem of relying too much on written ( official ) culture. He seems to suggest that we rely too much on the documented, recorded versions of reality, and not enough on the stories of people who experienced and wittnessed historical events. I will confess that the first 50 pages of the novel were quite confusing and difficult. But after that the story is meticulously crafted, and an absolute page turner. And if you go back to the first 50 pages upon concluding the novel, you will understand most of what is going on. So if you are looking for a great read pick this book up. It's challenging but highly rewarding to the observant reader.
Date published: 2004-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not to my taste This is supposed to be a classic, highly recommened to me by a literate friend. I found it a tedious read. It is in that somewhat detatched present tense that I do not relate well to. The story line is difficult to follow, the character hard to understand. I will not read any more of Ondaatje, I imagine.
Date published: 2004-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Must-Read, But Definately More Than Once On my first read through this book, I was slightly disappointed. However, having chosen it to do a school essay on, I re-read and re-read and analysed (to some extent) Ondaatje's purpose, imagery, metaphors, and characters. What emerged was a beautiful, well-planned, and memorable book experience. Do not let this great novel escape you if you enjoy intelligent, meaningful and exquisite prose.
Date published: 2003-06-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Vedi, vini, disappointed I bought it, I read it and I was disappointed! I don't understand why this book is supposed to be read by all Canadians? I found it confussing and too sophisticated. This book was over-advertised.
Date published: 2003-03-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A literary eye opener and sure page turner Great story and plot with interesting characters. However I would not say this reflects what 'shaped Toronto'. There must be more to that, than crazy tunnel diggers and thiefs. Still a great story for a movie, just how long will it take before someone will pick it up?
Date published: 2002-10-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I gave up half way through hoping I'd discover where he was going with this. I had been hoping for a readable story about interesting characters out of Toronto's history, but got a too-desperate attempt at avant-garde literature. Why does an author have to feel that in order for his work to be considered a piece of literature, it has to be told in a disjointed stream of semi-conscious?
Date published: 2002-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ondaatje's Poetic Prose is a Fine Read Evocative, disparate threads, weave together plot elements that are sometimes difficult to follow. This is neither a light read nor a fast read. It is, most certainly, a fine read.
Date published: 2002-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poetic Words Ondaatje's words often leave me wanting more.This work was fabulous, I will read it again.
Date published: 2002-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from in the skin of a lion An excellent story with an enjoyable plot. The effortless detail and poetry throughout the book gives the reader a sense of reflection. One of my favourite books to date. The epic of GIlgamesh is a great way to understand the underlying notion Ondaatje leads us to
Date published: 2002-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent characters This book kept me interested throughout, simply because the character stories were so intricately connected with the plot that it was hard to put it down. It all comes together at the end, and makes for a great read.
Date published: 2000-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Better than The English Patient After watching the English Patient, I bought the book, but I couldn't seem to get into it. Somehow, I persevered and even though I was turned off by EP, I bought In the Skin of the Lion. ISL is a wonderful story about the making of a city. The writing is poetic, and the characters are unforgettable. It's one of those books that you still think about days after reading it.
Date published: 2000-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ondaatje is one of the best authors this century. The English Patient won him rave reviews and secured his place as one of the premiere writers of prose in the world. However, his previous works are just as amazing, and should have a place in the spotlight that The English Patient has shone on Michael Ondaatje. In The Skin Of A Lion reads like slick poetry, bouncing of your tongue and rolling into your mind the stories of the different people who helped shape the city of Toronto. He sculpts characters from different places and backgrounds and melds them into one solid story. It reads so smoothly and it will not let you put it down. Once all the hype from The English Patient dies down, In The Skin Of A Lion (and others, like Coming Through Slaughter, Running In The Family, and his newest book of poetry, Handwriting) will be praised as another of Michael Ondaatje’s spectacular works.
Date published: 1999-07-07

Read from the Book

An April night in 1917. Harris and Pomphrey were on the bridge, in the dark wind. Pomphrey had turned west and was suddenly stilled. His hand reached out to touch Harris on the shoulder, a gesture he had never made before.-- Look!Walking on the bridge were five nuns.Past the Dominion Steel castings wind attacked the body directly. The nuns were walking past the first group of workers at the fire. The bus, Harris thought, must have dropped them off near Castle Frank and the nuns had, with some confusion at that hour, walked the wrong way in the darkness.They had passed the black car under the trees and talking cheerfully stepped past the barrier into a landscape they did not know existed -- onto a tentative carpet over the piers, among the night labourers. They saw the fire and the men. A few tried to wave them back. There was a mule attached to a wagon. The hiss and jump of machines made the ground under them lurch. A smell of creosote. One man was washing his face in a barrel of water.The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

From Our Editors

They were anarchists, millionaires, construction workers and clergy. One helped build the Bloor Street Viaduct. Another, a thief, led a charmed life. Still another was rescued from certain death. They created Toronto and the city shaped them. Michael Ondaatje combines adventure and romance, history and murder in a masterful tale of the immigrant experience.

Editorial Reviews

"A triumph -- a powerful and revelatory accomplishment."--The Times Literary Supplement"Splendidly evocative and entertaining."--The Toronto Star"A brilliantly imaginative blend of history, lore, passion and poetry."--Russell Banks"What is most moving is the human connectedness of this book… so densly erotic, so subtly sensual, so intensely responsive."--Malahat Review"Ondaatje has written into the vivid life of fiction a part of the history of the building of Toronto as no official history would have conceived it and as no official history can now erase it."--Adele Wiseman"In the Skin of a Lion is an act of magic!"--Alberto Manguel"Beautiful … I urge you to read this book."--The New York Times