CBC Digital Archives

In the skin of Ondaatje

Since its debut in 2002, CBC Radio's Canada Reads has quickly become a popular and influential show, attracting huge audiences and driving up book sales. Each year, CBC convenes a panel of prominent Canadians to each pick a work of Canadian fiction and argue why their choice should be the book that all of Canada reads. The CBC Digital Archives brings you a collection of the animated and entertaining final debates, winner "reveals" and interviews with the winning authors of Canada Reads.

Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion began as a book about the notorious disappearance of Toronto theatre czar Ambrose Small, but Ondaatje says he soon found himself seduced by the deep and fascinating world of Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s and the building of the city. From there emerged a tale of how Canada's biggest city became what it is, as well as fictionalized stories of the people involved. To celebrate the novel's recent triumph in Canada Reads 2002, CBC Radio re-broadcasts Ondaatje's 1987 interview with Peter Gzowksi about the brand-new novel In the Skin of a Lion.
• Ambrose Small, who is discussed in this clip, was a prominent Toronto businessman and theatre magnate who famously disappeared in 1919. On Dec. 21, 1919, Small sold all his theatre holdings in Ontario for $1.7 million ($20.5 million in 2009). He met with his lawyer on December 2, left the office at 5:30 p.m. and was never seen again. He did not take the money with him, fuelling speculation of foul play. Police pursued many fruitless leads, psychics offered their own visions and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) was offered a crack at the case, but refused. Ambrose was never found, and rumours persist that his ghost haunts the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., and the Tivoli Theatre in Hamilton, Ont.

• As Michael Ondaatje mentions in this interview, writing In the Skin of a Lion took him nearly 10 years, but he spent a lot of that time writing poetry as well. His first novel, Coming Through Slaughter, was published in 1976 and In the Skin of a Lion came out in 1987; in the meantime, he published five books of poetry.

Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: April 24, 2002
Guest(s): Michael Ondaatje
Host: Ralph Benmergui
Interviewer: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 11:54
Photo: Michael Ondaatje in 2002. Photo by Aaron Harris/Canadian Press.

Last updated: February 9, 2012

Page consulted on November 29, 2012

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