Reading Michael Ondaatje

It's May, which means that in a few weeks my nephew Jaxon will be a year old, and it'll be a year since I went to Montreal, and a year after it was decided that we would not be hosting CARIFESTA X, and a year more or less since I started reading Ondaatje again.Now it may not seem that all those things are connected, but trust me, they are. Last year things changed. I'm not sure that elections are supposed to make life in a country so different, especially not in a country where the difference between political parties is really no more than a few degrees right or left, a leader, and a set of initials -- but nevertheless the difference between this year and last year appears vast. And at the same time it's the same. It still matters what colours you wore this time last year, when really it shouldn't. We are a nation trying to stay afloat in this roughwater world, after all, and that's not changed; but we still care who won, we still care what letters we prefer. I thought the silliness would ebb away after elections. Apparently I was wrong.What this has to do with Ondaatje is not immediately apparent. Let me put it this way. Last year I discovered -- or rediscovered, not sure -- my affinity for his work. It was something I discovered back when I read The English Patient and then went out and bought his other books, some of them anyway: In the Skin of a Lion and, later, Anil's Ghost. Ondaatje doesn't write novels fast, and so there was time to savour each of these: five years between Lion and English Patient, and then eight years between English Patient and Anil's Ghost. And then, last year, Divisadero.I read The English Patient all the way through, though I now remember the film better than the book -- such is the magic of Ralph Fiennes' work in the former. I started to read Lion and didn't finish. I started to read Anil's Ghost on the drive back from Victoria to Nassau in 2000 and stopped when I got home, distracted by house-making and teaching at COB. And then, last year I discovered iPod books. I bought Anil's Ghost and Divisadero from the iTunes store and listened to them -- Anil's Ghost all the way to Montreal, during my four hours in Philadelphia Airport. My only time in that airport and I will always remember it, and listening to Anil's Ghost and looking at the airport art and waiting for the US Air plane to take me to Canada. Listening to the book as I walked the quartiers around Rue de la Visitation, where Eddie and Tasha lived. And then coming to the end in their apartment one morning, and waiting for days to start Divisadero -- and listening to that while waiting for the plane back home.Ondaatje writes about war, always about war. In this he's like Findley, my other favourite Canadian writer. What is it about Canada, that country committed to peace, that makes its writers so obsessed war?