A boy, Patrick Lewis, grows up in rural Ontario among loggers and river drives. In 1918 a migrant worker called Temelcoff works on the construction of a bridge in Toronto; in heavy winds a nun is blown from the structure and Temelcoff, hanging from a spar, catches her. In the 1920s Patrick comes to Toronto to join the search for a missing millionaire and becomes involved with the wealthy man's mistress. Later he helps a thief called Caravaggio to escape from prison; they are painting the prison roof and Caravaggio is covered completely in blue paint so that he disappears from sight. Political terrorists attempt to blow up another of Toronto's ambitious constructions. In the midst of historical realities these diverse lives intersect. That's all you need to know of the story.
All Ondaatje's major work is concerned with hunting, pursuing, tracking down. In Running in the Family he is in search of his own family history; Pat Garrett's ruthless hunt for the outlaw is the dominant theme of Billy the Kid; in Coming Through Slaughter the detective who pursues Buddy Bolden