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The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Michael Ondaatje

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8,159114384 (3.94)548
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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» See also 548 mentions

English (106)  Dutch (3)  Lithuanian (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (114)
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
Four people live together briefly at an abandoned villa toward the end of World War II. They are all waiting for the paths of their lives to reemerge after having experienced many painful and traumatic events related to the war. This basic premise is what was interesting about this book, but problematic character introduction and development interfered with the book's full potential. I was willing to believe some aspects of the life stories of the English patient, Kip, and even Caravaggio, but two particular aspects of Hana's life story seemed less plausible, not because they were by nature unbelievable but because they required more than a passing comment or two to make them real. Similarly, the novel moved too quickly to fully understand important parts of the relationship between Katharine and Almasy. Though written in poetic language that brings to life the varied settings of the book, the overall reading experience was somewhat frustrating. A possible conclusion the book makes is that sometimes it is necessary to postpone fully feeling pain for awhile in order to eventually move beyond it. ( )
  karmiel | Jul 24, 2015 |
This book was all flowery language, and moved far too slow for my liking. I wasn't able to finish reading it. ( )
  Czarmoriarty | Mar 16, 2015 |
Michael Ondaatje’s novel, The English Patient, is rendered in a lyrical style that will transport you back and forth from a bombed villa in Tuscany, to the blinding sands of the North African desert, to war time England, and the vibrant era of pre-war Cairo. Told in the multiple points of views of a Canadian nurse, a Sikh sapper, an Italian thief, and faceless, burned Englishman, it breaks most traditional literary conventions, yet it is done with brilliant mastery.
The horrors of war has made the characters reticent to reveal all the details of their past lives. Bits and pieces about themselves are presented cautiously. Sometimes the stories are coloured with the haze of wine or shots of morphine—to reveal too much is to make them vulnerable—not a safe position to be in times of war.
This is certainly an important, historical book about the physical and emotional ravages of war, and proof that no one comes out of these horrific times unscathed. ( )
  Murielle_Cyr | Feb 23, 2015 |
“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...”
The same might be said of the characters in The English Patient. For this is a beautiful, artfully crafted novel about the mapping of identity within borders, set before and during World war two when borders were in continual flux and territorial conquest and possession were the name of the game. The narrative, like the abandoned villa in which the characters take refuge and the fateful cave where the paintings of swimmers are discovered (even the desert/sea boundary has shifted over time), is a construction of haunting echoes. Ondaatje continually brings back the narrative to memory, the most secret and probably defining element of self and thus continually shows us how shifting are the borders of self. Nationality, another form of mapping identity, especially in wartime, is another prevailing theme of the novel. Kip, as an Indian sapper in the British army, straddles another drawn line. He has never felt accepted by the British as a whole though he has two English friends with whom he feels very close – Ondaatje again showing us how history’s borders are arbitrary and can be individually breached. Nevertheless he will always feel excluded, as if detained by customs. Love, not nationality, will provide him with his most vivid sense of self – undone ultimately by another impersonal act of history. The English Patient isn’t English at all, he’s a Hungarian count, and his nationality too will ultimately exclude him from his heart. He himself pastes and writes his own fragmented history into his battered copy of Herodotus’ Histories. A contrast between the conventional narrative of history with its battles and leaders and shifting allegiances and personal history made up of secret epiphanies and tragedies of timing. Together with Hana, a young nurse mourning the death of her brother and Caravaggio, a spy, thief and morphine addict Almasey, the so-called English patient, and Kip take refuge in the Tuscan villa which becomes a kind of haven where they speak to each other’s private selves and are thus able to draw up truer maps of their individual histories, until the outside world and its insistence on arbitrary stifling demarcation lines once again intervenes.
Also has to be said that Ondaatje’s prose is as rhythmically mesmerising and inspired as Virginia Woolf or Don Delillo at their best. ( )
1 vote wellsie | Feb 18, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (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.”
Last words
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:36 -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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