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The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Michael Ondaatje

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8,013110400 (3.94)521
Title:The English Patient
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Vintage (1993), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:1001 TBR, Film, Sri Lanka

Work details

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)

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    Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy by Norman Lewis (wandering_star)
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    Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (Johanna11)
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    lucyknows: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje may be paired with Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. The film adaptations could also be used.

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» See also 521 mentions

English (103)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Lithuanian (1)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (110)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
I was very disappointed in this book. I hate to say it, and rarely do, but I liked the film much, much more. ( )
  shesinplainview | Nov 25, 2014 |
I love this book. It is the exact kind of mystery that intrigues me. I've read it twice and the second time was even better than the first. One of my all time favorites. The movie is great also. ( )
  padmajoy | Oct 7, 2014 |
The bunch of characters that make up the cast of The English Patient are very lucid. But I have read reviews that present them as shell shocked. Are these people mad? Do they think of themselves as normal? Sure they do. I knew going in that I would not understand all sentences. But there's on part that mystified me. It began with the phrase "Her foot pressed down harder onto the boy's neck..."

The book mentions several books of its own. Also, quite a few songs. I don't know why a particular song was chosen. Such as La Marseillaise. Very interesting. Was Madox influenced by the Russian classic Anna Karenina? His fate is tragic, of course. More so because he seemed healthy and righteous. But his part is small. I'm surprised by the large role of Kip. In the movie (which I don't remember much) he was a footnote. In the book, he almost has equal billing with the English Patient. His part had to be big, because of his role as a bomb disarming agent. A sapper. The vocabulary of this book can't be faulted. Words like schottische and pollard. Very apt and relevant and exact.

There are two types of books, those that provide illumination and those that need a light to be understood. Did Hana love Almasy because of the contradiction of his character? Because he is elusive, not possessive at all, but at the same time he has to admit that he lost the love of his life. He has a closed face - I'm speaking metaphorically, as his face has melted - but had the air of a man who as been in love. If, as readers, we can know why Hana stayed in Florence to look after the English Patient, we'd have understood the book according to our own interpretation. I just wished I could have seen him die. It would have brought some kind of closure. ( )
  Jiraiya | Aug 23, 2014 |
If ever a book was written to stir your senses to dizzying heights, it’s ‘The English Patient’. Sometimes like the lilting touch of a kiss, sometimes the prancing pace of a musical verse, sometimes the piercing stab of a needle, sometimes the burning pain of a hot iron… the book affects you in every imaginable way. The third novel of the Sri Lankan born Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje, it follows the same sensual and lyrical but spare style of his earlier novels, and build upon them this time with a passionately pictorial prose and an intricate but tantalizing story.

The second world war is coming to an end in Italy, and a Canadian nurse Hanna, emotionally jaded by the death and destruction of the war, seeks refuge in the abandoned villa of San Girolamo. She chooses to make the care of an unrecognizably burnt patient her mission - a patient called ‘The English Patient’ because that’s the only language he seems to know.

Shortly afterwards, the villa sees the arrival of two more key characters – the thief Caravaggio, an acquaintance of Hanna from her childhood days in Toronto, and Kip (Kirpal Singh), a Sikh soldier who is part of the bomb disposal squad of the British Army. The interplay between these characters and an occasional solitary dip into the memories of the burnt man lead us to the slow unraveling of the man's past.

And what a past it is! A middle-aged explorer deeply in love with the desert, falling for the beautiful, young wife of a friend, leading to a wildly passionate and achingly beautiful romance. From this point in life, we will either find or lose our souls. The woman developing a burning sense of guilt at having betrayed her simple husband. And then withdrawing. We will never love each other again. Followed by anger from his side. Madness. I just want you to know. I don’t miss you yet. His face awful to her, trying to smile.

The lovers separate. But the husband comes to know about the affair somehow and tries to kill them all in a plane crash. Almasy the explorer survives, George Clifton, the husband doesn’t. And the centre of it all, the willowy woman, the one with the classical blood in her face, the one whose voice the weary, hardened explorer had first fallen in love with, Katharine Clifton - she is injured, almost fatally. What happens after that, I will leave you to find out by reading ‘The English Patient’.

In between, we are also treated to another delicious fare – the childlike, vervy romance that develops between Hanna and the soldier Kirpal and occasional flashbacks into how Kirpal has become the smart and courageous, but carefree bomb disposal soldier that he is. And parallel to that, the shenanigans of the thief Caravaggio, who for his own personal reasons, is bent upon discovering the true identity of the English Patient.

Going back and forth between Almasy’s past and this present, the book at times almost drives you to tears with its haunting description of the love between Almasy and Katherine, Hanna and Kirpal. And at other times, leaves you marveling at the lyricism and strength of the prose (and the research behind it) that turns even as dry a subject as bomb disposal into a riveting thriller.

Definitely a book to buy and cherish. No wonder it won the Booker!
  4abhimanyu | Jul 18, 2014 |
This book isn't quite what I expected of it--it has many stories in it. And, at the end, I'm not quite sure what to think of it. Parts of this book seemed intentionally confusing, I was unsure who's story was being told at times, and the time frame of the story. The most interesting story to me is that of Hanna...the troubled young Canadian nurse who finds herself in Italy caring for a burnt up man in an abandoned Allied hospital.

Like most war books, it sends a message of the horrors of war--which I dig. :)

Since Hanna's story was what was used to draw the reader in at the beginning--I really enjoyed the beginning of the book more than the end. But overall, it is a good book. Interested in seeing the movie now. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
... the plane must have been drying out under its tarpaulin in the desert for eight years. It is entirely covered with sand. Almasy `digs' it out : with what? ... Having shifted tons of sand ... he moves, single-handed, the plane out on to the level, so it can take off. How, single-handed, does he `swing the prop'? ... sand would have penetrated moving parts of the machinery and would have to be meticulously dusted out. ... Almasy merely pours in his can of petrol -- and the engine starts!
added by KayCliff | editWhere was Rebecca shot?, John Sutherland (Mar 14, 1998)
It is a complex and confusing novel whose readers might easily want to consult the index simply to untangle the threads of the plot ... to clarify events that had another meaning ... in an earlier context.

» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Ondaatjeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fiennes, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Most of you, I am sure, remember the tragic circumstances of the death of Geoffrey Clifton at Gilf Kebir, followed later by the disappearance of his wife, Katharine Clifton, which took place during the 1939 desert expedition in search of Zerzura.

"I cannot begin this meeting tonight without referring very sympathetically to those tragic occurrences.
"The lecture this evening . . . "
~ From the minutes of the Geographical Society meeting of November 194-, London
In memory of
Skip and Mary Dickinson

For Quintin and Griffin

And for Louise Dennys,
with thanks
First words
She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.
“Why are you not smarter? It's only the rich who can't afford to be smart. They're compromised. They got locked years ago into privilege. They have to protect their belongings. No one is meaner than the rich. Trust me. But they have to follow the rules of their shitty civilised world. They declare war, they have honour, and they can't leave. But you two. We three. We're free.”
“There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome. The alm, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia. The arifi, also christened aref or rifi, which scorches with numerous tongues. These are permanent winds that live in the present tense.
There are other, less constant winds that change direction, that can knock down horse and rider and realign themselves anticlockwise. The bist roz leaps into Afghanistan for 170 days--burying villages. There is the hot, dry ghibli from Tunis, which rolls and rolls and produces a nervous condition. The haboob--a Sudan dust storm that dresses in bright yellow walls a thousand metres high and is followed by rain. The harmattan, which blows and eventually drowns itself into the Atlantic. Imbat, a sea breeze in North Africa. Some winds that just sigh towards the sky. Night dust storms that come with the cold. The khamsin, a dust in Egypt from March to May, named after the Arabic word for 'fifty,' blooming for fifty days--the ninth plague of Egypt. The datoo out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance.
There is also the ------, the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it. And the nafhat--a blast out of Arabia. The mezzar-ifoullousen--a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as 'that which plucks the fowls.' The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, 'black wind.' The Samiel from Turkey, 'poison and wind,' used often in battle. As well as the other 'poison winds,' the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.
Other, private winds.
Travelling along the ground like a flood. Blasting off paint, throwing down telephone poles, transporting stones and statue heads. The harmattan blows across the Sahara filled with red dust, dust as fire, as flour, entering and coagulating in the locks of rifles. Mariners called this red wind the 'sea of darkness.' Red sand fogs out of the Sahara were deposited as far north as Cornwall and Devon, producing showers of mud so great this was also mistaken for blood. 'Blood rains were widely reported in Portugal and Spain in 1901.'
There are always millions of tons of dust in the air, just as there are millions of cubes of air in the earth and more living flesh in the soil (worms, beetles, underground creatures) than there is grazing and existing on it. Herodotus records the death of various armies engulfed in the simoom who were never seen again. One nation was 'so enraged by this evil wind that they declared war on it and marched out in full battle array, only to be rapidly and completely interred.”
“All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.”
“The desert could not be claimed or owned — it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East ... All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape.”
“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swam up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if cares... I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. WE are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.”
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679745203, Paperback)

Haunting and harrowing, as beautiful as it is disturbing, The English Patient tells the story of the entanglement of four damaged lives in an Italian monastery as World War II ends. The exhausted nurse, Hana; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burn victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning. In lyrical prose informed by a poetic consciousness, Michael Ondaatje weaves these characters together, pulls them tight, then unravels the threads with unsettling acumen.

A book that binds readers of great literature, The English Patient garnered the Booker Prize for author Ondaatje. The poet and novelist has also written In the Skin of a Lion, Coming Through Slaughter and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid; two collections of poems, The Cinnamon Peeler and There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do; and a memoir, Running in the Family.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:43 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The Booker Prize-winning novel, now a critically acclaimed major motion picture, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe and Kristin Scott Thomas. With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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