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In the Skin of a Lion [Paperback]

Michael Ondaatje
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
In 1987, Ondaatje wrote his chef d'ouevre, In the Skin of a Lion, which combines the best of his previous prose, poetry, and recent autobiography. Here one will see fictional characters come to believable life, prose more sonorous than most poetry of the day, and learn more about the history and politics of Canada than one does at school (unless, of course, one is lucky enough to be Canadian.) Many feel (and I believe rightly so) that this is the book that should have won the prestigious Booker Prize--an honor later given to 1992's The English Patient. Certainly, this is the book that helped give birth to the latter. It is here that we meet Patrick Lewis, Caravaggio, and a much younger Hana. Lewis is the anti-hero of the story, so deftly written that we grow with him, we love with him, and we grieve with him. I somehow feel that Patrick is closer to Ondaatje's heart more so than any other character that he's written until the advent of Kip in The English Patient. The tale of Patrick's life in "Upper America" made me weep at each reading, as did the sheer beauty of Ondaatje's prose. In my humble opinion, it is his finest prose to date.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can never say 'Shh' without a shiver now. Jan. 21 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I will begin with the problem of the book. It reads initially slowly. This is, for many, a problem. It's dense prose, in fractured time. It's also a traditional story, with a plot that moves in a direct line up to the pointed climax, and then a resolution down from that high point.
Basically, the beginning is slow, yet dense, and becomes more intense as time passes. If you have not the patience to push through the first thirty pages, you should stop reading books. The plot thickens, and intensifies until the moment of pointed climax. And I cannot say 'Shh' without a shiver.
The prose: gorgeous without being over-the-top. The characters: firmly and clearly human, while each is a little super-human in their own quiet ways, as many of us are.
In other words, one of the greatest novels in the world to emerge from the late twentieth century. The techniques are firmly rooted in time and place, and the words shed light on a world that is, for us, indescribable. A heart, and a mind, so rare to find together, lies before you. Be prepared for a life-changing journey.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all the beauty that surrounds us April 7 2000
By Jonna
Format:Paperback
I am trapped by these words, I slow down on each one almost notwanting to know what comes next because I know it'll most certainly besomething that puts me in awe and leaves me hungry for more.
I thought The English Patient was a wonderful book, I walked in Libyan desert looking for Zerzura for weeks after reading that book. But In The Skin Of A Lion is something so much more. This book moves me so I'm left speechless. The continuance, the surprises, the beauty, the characters. If it was possible to choose to write like someone I would absolutely pick Michael Ondaatje. His work is simply beautiful.
I am amazed. Read this book, read all of them. Find the fine red line that ties all the stories together. END
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Trust me, this will take time..." July 6 2009
By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
... but there is order here, very faint, very human." This should be the first sentence of every novel, the narrator reflects midway in Michael Ondaatje extraordinary novel. And he makes taking the time more than worthwhile. Actual short news items are creatively woven into a tapestry of life in and around Toronto during the early decades of the last century. Real or realistic characters, essential for the construction of the city at the time are at the centre of the story: primarily immigrant workers from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds. Ondaatje makes them the heroes of this powerful and captivating novel, with a few established Canadians added into the mix and set against the social and political context of the time. "It is a novel about the wearing and the removal of masks; the shedding of skin, the transformations and translations of identity." Ondaatje stated in an interview, hinting at the novel's title, taken from the ancient Sumerian Epic, Gilgamesh.

A nun falls off a bridge under construction, a millionaire theatre mogul disappears, neither person to be traced or washed up somewhere... "Official histories, news stories surround us daily, but the events of art reach us too late, travel languorously like messages in a bottle." Yet in his novel, the author spins a possible continuation of each news story, bringing the events to life, giving the characters an alternative reality, in which their lives are closely connected to other, imagined, characters.

Patrick Lewis is the central figure in the novel, the linking element of what initially may appear as disconnected stories. With his father he lives on a farm and learns his father's skill as a logging dynamiter. One night, he watches a group of loggers, Finns, dancing on the frozen river, burning cattails in hand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Qustion about the title July 6 2000
Format:Paperback
I thought this was a mystical enchanting book. The descriptions of work were strong and powerful. Who can forget the images of dangeling from the bridge, dynamiting the log jams, digging the waterworks tunnel. Partrick is a "Billy Budd" character committed to ideals and responsibilities. A question. On page 224 it says "He [Harris] stood over Patrick." 'He lay down to sleep, until he was woken from out of a dream. He saw the lions around him glorying in life; then he took his axe in his hand, he drew his sword from his belt, and he fell upon them like an arrow from the string." Brackets are mine. I feel sure this a Biblical reference. Do you know where it is from? I am very interested to know the answer. Please reply to nhalff@aol.com
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and...
...gripping and funny and sexy and sad and insightful and introspective and nostalgic and erotic and interesting and ________. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2012 by David Sabine
4.0 out of 5 stars Toronto's forgotten history
In the Skin of a Lion is many stories in one: a solitary farm boy trying to make it in the Big City, a story of passion and obsession, a story of a city's forgotten history, and a... Read more
Published on March 6 2010 by Andrea
2.0 out of 5 stars Not to my taste at all
This is supposed to be a classic, highly recommened to me by a literate friend. I agree that it is poetic, and has a gossamer feel to it. But, I found it a tedious read. Read more
Published on April 11 2004 by David C Polk
2.0 out of 5 stars Not to my taste at all
This is supposed to be a classic, highly recommened to me by a literate friend. I agree that it is poetic, and has a gossimer feel to it. But, I found it a tedious read. Read more
Published on April 11 2004 by David C Polk
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange & unsatisfying
The leading character never seems to think. He just follows his impulses without ever seeming to question whether the impulses are moral or immoral, sane or crazy. Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars In the Skin of a Lion: a passionate Canadian story.
This is a wonderful novel, well worth a read. It is not quick work, as the reader becomes lost in Ondaatje's poetic prose. Read more
Published on May 16 2002 by Aron Neil Solomon
4.0 out of 5 stars Michael Ondaatje's Anti-Hero
As some of the reviewers have said, _In The Skin Of A Lion_ must be read slowly to be truly appreciated, otherwise much of the subtleties of this beautifully written, poetic, and... Read more
Published on April 15 2002 by IRA Ross
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the greatest book
I am a high school student, and I am reading this book for an English course. I had a list of books to choose from, and for some reason I chose this one. Read more
Published on March 21 2002 by "blink_baby_00"
4.0 out of 5 stars Romantic, Cubist, Very Well Crafted
There is no more poetic and skillful an author on the scene today and this book is a fine illustration of his extraordinary talent. Read more
Published on Jan. 5 2001 by "beachillen"
4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical, soft prose, wonderful story-teller
Michael Ondaatje, the author of "The English Patient," tells the story of Patrick Lewis, a mid-western Canadian farmboy whose father was an explosions specialist who... Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2000 by R. Peterson
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