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Book 1 : the stone carvers by jane urquart
Book 2 : three day road by joseph boyden
Book 3 in the skin of a lion by michael ondaatje
Book 4 the tin flute by gabrielle roy

You have to write a book review on any one book from the above. you have to only take 2-3 themes from the book and do research on them and write. Please dont write book summary book should be 10 % and rest 90% should be research. You have to write about canadian history.

An Attempt at Writing Alternative History

In his novel In the Skin of a Lion Michael Ondaatje offers an insight into the working class conditions in Canada during the twentieth century through the exploration of various characters inhabiting various locations in the economy and society. Through the life and experiences of Patrick Lewis, the author provides insights into the working class conditions prevailing in Toronto in the 1920s and subsequently the 30s. However, the novel also contains a few other major characters who help in offering varied perspectives regarding the problems prevailing in the workers’ society. The diverse points of view presented in the novel help in expressing the fact the working class cannot be a homogenous community. Their community is comprised of people who have immigrated to Canada from various parts of the world and therefore, is culturally and linguistically diverse. Therefore, to imagine the working class as a single indivisible monolith would be historically inaccurate. Ondaatje’s narrative is richly colored with a multiplicity of voices that critique historiographic assumptions where totalizing categories often form the basis of historical narratives. The novel’s plot does not follow a linear structure and is characterized by frequent temporal and spatial shifts through the use of flashbacks and abrupt leaps in the future. This lends the narrative a sense of fluidity in contrast to history whose formal rigidity does not allow it to be colored by imagination. This helps the novel bring out the gaps that are present in historical narratives. The incapability of historiography to address these gaps in its attempts at being objective only highlights the incompleteness of the entire. The novel on the other hand, by being deliberately subjective in nature, helps in emphasizing the equal importance of personal narratives and memories in the enterprise of the reconstruction of the past. Sensory perception is attributed a lot of importance in the novel which is normally disregarded in history writing.

In the Skin of the Lion rekindles the personal and emotional aspects of the past that are mostly ignored by history. For example, the death of the workers in the building of the Prince Edward Viaduct shall be known to history in the form of a mere statistic. However, the personal and emotional experiences that are associated with those deaths are often lost. No one would remember the candlelight march of the workers on the night before the day of the inauguration of the bridge for paying homage to their dead colleagues. Officially, the cyclist shall be known to be the first person to step on the bridge and posterity will be oblivious about what happened the previous night. Similarly, the descriptions of the workers in the act of building the bridge take on a surreal aspect as they are portrayed as extensions of the tools that are being used for the construction. This description allows the reader to subjectively relive the past. It triggers the imagination and aids the mind in thinking about aspects of the past that has been completely ignored.

Insights into the Working Class Conditions

From historical narratives, it can be known that a substantial portion of the working class community were immigrants, mostly illegal who did not know how to speak in English. Therefore, it was quite natural for them to face problems in communicating or integrating with the mainstream national narrative. However, the practical implications of these phenomena will never be known. The experiences of the Macedonian worker Nicholas Temelcoff offers the reader with an understanding of how it actually felt like living in Canada in 1918 without knowing English. Nicholas’ attending of school despite being twenty-six years of age, his singing of songs to learn the language help in recreating the past through the eyes of a person who actually lived it. This adds more realism to the narrative. The author also shows how the workers often transcended the linguistic barriers and succeeded in understanding one another despite having no common link language. The episode in the pub where Nicholas and the nun, despite each speaking their own languages, were able to understand one another is only an instance of how shared experiences foster mutual understanding even in the absence of a proper medium of communication. Therefore, in spite of their internal differences, the workers did not fail to form a solidarity on account of their shared economic and social interests. The clandestine gathering of workers in the Waterworks building shows how they managed to form a collective consciousness on account of their position in the social hierarchy. The meetings, as Patrick’s experience reveals, were not strictly political in nature, rather it accommodated a slot for entertainment as well. However, as the puppet play shows, entertainment too was heavily politicized. The human puppet, representing the immigrant worker who does not know the language is manhandled by the police. Not knowing the language also attains a symbolic significance at this juncture. On account of the worker’s marginal position in society, it was highly unlikely that his voice would be heard and his problems paid heed to. He is a subaltern in Spivak’s sense of the term and therefore, he cannot speak. But Ondaatje makes it a point to explore those voices from history that have been suppressed even though they are not registered by the mainstream.

Ondaatje’s portrayal of the workers also defies the totalizing categories of the bourgeois/proletariat of classical Marxism. He brings up a lot of grey areas by showing that class identity is not the only identity for the workers. Culture, language food plays a long role in shaping the identities of the workers. The Macedonian immigrants have set up bars and shops according to their tastes. They have formed colonies in the image of their homeland. Even in the workplaces, the workers take up individual roles based upon their area of specialization. For example, Nicholas is known as the worker who can work while dangerously hanging through a rope. His role cannot be substituted by anyone else. Therefore, even though the workers form a collective in order to voice out their political and social interests, they are comprised of thousands of individual voices who have come together to resist institutional oppression.

Diversity among the Working Class

The workers also problematize the notion of nationhood and nation building. Even though most of them are illegal immigrants and therefore, not citizens of Canada, their efforts are indispensable in the building of the new nation. Bridges, buildings, and other structures are built by hiring such illegal immigrants by the thousands. This raises the question about whether their contribution in the building of the new Canada does not invariably make them Canadian citizens despite the authorities not accepting it? The idea is further problematized when it is seen that the immigrants have set up their communities in the image of their past homeland. How does one define the space of the Macedonian colony? Is the space an extension of Macedonian territory or is it Canada on account of it being geographically located within its boundaries?

As Benedict Anderson points out in Imagined Communities, nations are not comprised of homogenous communities who form a cohesive whole on account of their similarities. Rather, nations are constituted by diverse communities who imagine themselves to form a unified whole on account of a shared past. Going by, Anderson’s theorization it can be understood well enough how the workers finally emerge as a single unified force in the face of oppression that they all are being subjected to.

The novel also anticipates the integration of the workers within the larger rubric of Canadian nationhood bringing in all their diversities and thereby, helping in the creation of an inclusive establishment. However, this does not mean that there are not any obstacles to the realization of this grand vision. As the novel points out, there were many workers who had to lay down their lives and the grand facade that the government portrays mostly hides a bloody past behind it. Yet, Ondaatje’s vision is optimistic. Through the encounter between Patrick and Harris, he creates the possibility of a dialogue between the two opposing factions and Harris’ treatment of Patrick even though he had broken into his house shows that he too was open to a resolution. This makes Ondaatje’s conception of the nation a living and continuously evolving entity rather than a static and unchanging one. The idea of nationhood is continually subjected to changes by the inclusion of diverse voices. This is how Ondaatje imagines the Canadian nationhood which cannot be restricted to linguistic or cultural determinants. It is rather based on continuous mutual discourse and exchange of ideas which fosters understanding and brotherhood. It is an ever-changing category that defies any attempt at essentializing definitions as once the idea of nationhood is restricted to a definition, it will cease to remain inclusive.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso Books, 2006.

Chakravorty, Gayatri. Spivak” Can the subaltern speak?”. Harvard University Press, 1999.

Heron, Craig, ed. The workers' revolt in Canada, 1917-1925. University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Nagata, Judith A. "Adaptation and integration of Greek working class immigrants in the city of Toronto, Canada: A situational approach." International Migration Review 4, no. 1 (1969): 44-70.

Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Picador, 2017.

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[Accessed 01 March 2024].

My Assignment Help. 'Book Review: In The Skin Of A Lion By Michael Ondaatje' (My Assignment Help, 2021) <https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bks1001h-introduction-to-book-history/skin-of-a-lion.html> accessed 01 March 2024.

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