In the Skin of a Lion opens on a young Patrick growing up in the wilds of the Canadian wilderness. Patrick lives outside a logging camp with his father, Hazen, a logger and self-taught explosives expert. Hazen, described as “taciturn,” is withdrawn from both Canadian society and his son, instilling in Patrick the sense of being “other” within one’s own culture. One winter night, Patrick is called to the frozen river by a vision of sparkling lights he takes to be fireflies. He finds the immigrant loggers ice skating while holding fistfuls of burning rushes. This is Patrick’s first glimpse of community, and he watches with longing and fascination yet is unable to overcome his own isolation to join them. The men remain remote and anonymous figures representing an ideal of which Patrick is barely cognizant. Only later does Patrick discover that the skaters were Finns. In this way Ondaatje weaves the past, the present, and the future into a temporal labyrinth that connects characters to themselves and to one another.
Chapter 2, “The Bridge,” focuses on Nicholas Temelcoff. Nicholas, a Macedonian immigrant, works the most dangerous job on the construction of the Prince Edward Bridge over the Don River. Suspended in mid-air, he is separated from his fellow workers by twin barriers of language and empty space. Nicholas’s isolation is broken one night when he catches a nun who has been swept off the unfinished bridge by wind. The emotional intimacy engendered by the rescue causes Nicholas to perceive Toronto differently, as if the city has been imbued with the nun’s spirit and beauty. One year later,...
(The entire section is 669 words.)