Neomonastic Paths and the
Limits of Postsecularism
There is God only in the desert…. Outside of this
there was just trade and power, money and war. Financial
and military despots shaped the world.
—The English Patient
By many standards, Michael Ondaatje is a worldly writer. He was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943 to a well-established family with a complex ethnic heritage: “the Ondaatje ancestry,” writes Ed Jewinski, “is a blend of Dutch, Sinhalese, and Tamil” (23). In 1952, after his parents separated, he went to England to be with his mother. In 1962 he moved again, following his older brother to Canada, taking his BA at the University of Toronto, and becoming a Canadian citizen. His fiction reflects this legacy of mixture and displacement and the acute sense of historical forces this legacy so often fosters. Focused on colonial and postcolonial migrancy, it tracks people in motion across geographical and cultural borders. It takes for subjects the class struggle in Canada, the politics of race and empire in World War II, and postcolonial civil wars and human rights work in