Saturday, August 28, 2010

What I’m Reading: Michael Ondaatje’s IN THE SKIN OF A LION

If you’ve only seen the movie version of THE ENGLISH PATIENT and have not read that book, or any of the wonderful books by Michael Ondaatje, then run, don’t walk, to your library (or bookstore) and pick up some of his work.  His book about Buddy Bolden in New Orleans in the early 1900s, COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER, was a major influence on the devised piece I worked as a dramaturg on, IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST WITH TWO BACKS.

I just recently finished his book IN THE SKIN OF A LION.  Maybe it’s because I’m now living in Pittsburgh, but this story about immigrants forging a new city’s tunnels and waterworks was inspiring and uplifting.  Or maybe it’s the way he weaves disparate narratives together…a Macedonian bridge builder, a farm boy making it big in Toronto, a thief, an actress, a millionaire recluse on the run…

The beauty of his writing is that you feel like your mind is eating a steak, every word a juicy morsel.  His prose is elegant, poetic and stark like a poem.  For example, this moment when Temelcoff reflects on his work on a bridge, after being a baker so long:

“He came to this country like a torch on fire and he swallowed air as he walked forward and he gave out light.  Energy poured through him.  That was all he had time for in those years.  Language, customs, family, salaries.  Patrick’s gift, that arrow in the past, shows him the wealth in himself, how he has been sewn into history.  Now he will begin to tell stories…”

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