Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient (original 1992; edition 1992)

by Michael Ondaatje

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,435122366 (3.93)578
Title:The English Patient
Authors:Michael Ondaatje
Info:Vintage Books (1992), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:booker prize, canadian, prose, secondhand, war, pov, 2012

Work details

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)

  1. 70
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (ecureuil, Johanna11)
  2. 10
    Chef: A Novel by Jaspreet Singh (IamAleem)
  3. 10
    Mosquito by Roma Tearne (christiguc)
    christiguc: Also a well-written, lyrical novel about love, finding oneself, and the effects of war (civil war in Sri Lanka).
  4. 11
    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These moving, stylistically complex novels reflect on the brutality of World War II and its lingering effects. The characters have diverse backgrounds, some supporting the Germans and others the Allies. Their wartime experiences threaten to ruin their futures.… (more)
  5. 11
    Naples '44: A World War II Diary of Occupied Italy by Norman Lewis (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: A diary by a British soldier in Italy around the same time.
  6. 00
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (sturlington)
  7. 00
    Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (wolfgrin)
  8. 01
    Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (Nickelini)
  9. 01
    Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje (stevereads)
  10. 03
    Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (Johanna11)
  11. 14
    Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David Guterson (lucyknows)
    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.

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 578 mentions

English (113)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Lithuanian (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (122)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Ondaatje's prose is beguiling to say the least. Here he has told a story that like real life, is a fusion of many characteristics. This is a blend of love, peace, war, secrets, history, spies, memories, set in post-war Tuscany. Having poetic language, a good story, and Ondaatje’s inimitable languid air, this was engaging, but in a slow-moving, ethereal way in which a tragedy almost slipped in under the radar. In a strange way, spots that were implausible added to the shadowy quality rather than detracting. ( )
  VivienneR | May 21, 2016 |
Always beware reading the book after watching the movie... the barest elements of the screen sumptuousness were were. Not Michael Ondaatje's fault at all, but mine. ( )
  BrydieWalkerBain | Apr 26, 2016 |
My book club chose this book at the time the movie was coming out and there was a lot of hype about the film. We were very disappointed. It was a drudge to get through, and if it hadn't been a book club selection I would not have finished it.

I found it a very hard book to read ... full of allegory and ancient literary references. I don't mind a challenge but I felt the author was just going nowhere. I struggled and by the time book club met I was barely at the midpoint, but after the discussion I did persevere and enjoyed the second half of the book more. Still, I don't recommend it. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 5, 2016 |
The historical backdrop for this novel is the Second World War in Northern Africa and Italy. Hana, a young Canadian Army nurse, lives in the abandoned Villa San Girolamo in Italy, which is filled with hidden, undetonated bombs. In her care is the man nicknamed "the English patient," of whom all she knows is that he was burned beyond recognition in a plane crash before being taken to the hospital by a Bedouin tribe. He also claimed to be English. The only possession that the patient has is a copy of Herodotus' histories that survived the fire. He has annotated these histories and is constantly remembering his explorations in the desert in great detail, but cannot state his own name. The patient is, in fact, László de Almásy, a Hungarian desert explorer who was part of a British archaeological group. He chose, however, to erase his identity and nationality.

Caravaggio, a Canadian who served in Britain's foreign intelligence service since the late 1930s, was a friend of Hana's father, who died in the war. Caravaggio, who entered the world of spying because of his skill as a thief, comes to the villa in search of Hana. He overheard in another hospital that she was there taking care of a burned patient. Caravaggio bears physical and psychological scars; he was deliberately left behind to spy on the German forces and was eventually caught, interrogated and tortured, his thumbs having been cut off. Seeking vengeance three years later, Caravaggio (like Almásy) is addicted to morphine, which Hana supplies.

One day, while Hana is playing the piano, two British soldiers enter the villa. One of the soldiers is Kip, an Indian Sikh who has been trained as a sapper or combat engineer, specializing in bomb and ordnance disposal. Kip explains that the Germans often booby-trapped musical instruments with bombs, and that he will stay in the villa to rid it of its dangers. Kip and the English Patient immediately become friends.

Prompted to tell his story, the Patient begins to reveal all: An English gentleman, Geoffrey Clifton and his wife, Katharine, accompanied the patient's desert exploration team. The Patient's job was to draw maps of the desert, and the Clifton's plane made this job easier. Almásy fell in love with Katharine Clifton one night as she read from Herodotus' histories aloud around a campfire. They soon began a very intense affair, but in 1938, Katharine cut it off, claiming that Geoffrey would go mad if he discovered them.

When World War II broke out in 1939, the members of the exploration team decided to pack up base camp, and Geoffrey Clifton offered to pick up Almásy in his plane. However, Geoffrey Clifton arrived with Katharine and tried to kill all three of them by crashing the plane, leaving Almásy in the desert to die. Geoffrey Clifton died immediately; Katharine survived, but was horribly injured. Almásy took her to "the cave of swimmers", a place the exploration team had previously discovered, and covered her with a parachute so he could leave to find help. After four days, he reached a town, but the British were suspicious of him because he was incoherent and had a foreign surname. They locked him up as a spy.

When Almásy finally escaped, he knew it was too late to save Katharine, so he allowed himself to be captured by the Germans, helping their spies cross the desert into Cairo in exchange for gas and a car to get back to Katharine. After leaving Cairo, his car broke down in the desert. He walked the rest of the way to the "cave of swimmers" and found Katharine. He retrieved her body and carried it to a plane that had been buried in the sand years before. He tried to fly back to civilization, but the plane was shot down during flight. Almásy parachuted down covered in flames which was where the Bedouins found him.

Caravaggio, who had had suspicions that the Patient was not English, fills in details. Geoffrey Clifton was, in fact, an English spy and had intelligence about Almásy's affair with Katharine. He also had intelligence that Almásy was already working with the Germans.

Over time while Almásy divulges the details of his past, Kip becomes close to Hana. Kip's brother had always distrusted the West, but Kip entered the British Army willingly. He was trained as a sapper by Lord Suffolk, an English gentleman, who welcomed Kip into his family. Under Lord Suffolk's training, Kip became very skilled at his job. When Lord Suffolk and his team were killed by a bomb, Kip became separated from the world and emotionally removed from everyone. He decided to leave England and began defusing bombs in Italy. Kip's best friend, a British Army sergeant, is killed in a bomb explosion.

Kip forms a romantic relationship with Hana and uses it to reconnect to humanity. He becomes a part of a community again and begins to feel comfortable as a lover. Then he hears news of the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan. He becomes enraged. He feels deceived and betrayed by the western world into which he had tried to assimilate. He threatens to kill the English Patient, but instead decides to leave the Villa.

For some time after their separation, Hana wrote Kip letters, but he never responded. She eventually stopped. Years later, Kip is happily married with children and is a successful doctor; however, he still often thinks of Hana.

[edit] Characters in The English Patient

[edit] Almásy
Almásy is the title character. He arrives under Hana's care burned beyond recognition. He has a face, but it is unrecognizable and his tags are not present. The only identification they have of him is that he told the Bedouins that he was English. Thus, they call him just the English Patient. Lacking any identification, Almásy serves a sort of blank canvas onto which the other characters project their wishes. Hana finds in him redemption for not being at her father's side when he died in a similar fashion without anyone to comfort him. Kip finds a friend. The irony in the tale arises in that Almásy is not, in fact, English. Rather, he is Hungarian by birth and has tried to erase all ties to countries throughout his desert explorations.

Because of his complete rejection of nationalism, many of Almásy's actions which would otherwise seem reprehensible are somewhat forgiven. To a man with no nation, it is not wrong to help a German spy across the desert. The German is simply another man. Almásy is portrayed in a sympathetic light. This is partly because Almásy tells his own story, but it is also because Almásy always adheres to his own moral code.

Almásy is also at the center of one of the novel's love stories. He is involved in an adulterous relationship with Katharine Clifton, which eventually leads to her death and the death of her husband, Geoffrey Clifton. Katharine is the figure who leads Almásy to sensuality. He falls in love with her voice as she reads Herodotus. Sensuality—in both the sexual and observational senses—is a major theme to the novel.

The character is loosely based on a historical László Almásy, who was indeed a well-known desert explorer in 1930s Egypt and who did help the German side in the WWII fighting; but he did not get burned or die in Italy, but survived the war and lived until 1951, and is not known to have had an affair with Katharine Clifton - who was also a historical figure, but died long before the war and not in the circumstances depicted. The book (and the film based upon it) never made any claim to historical veracity, but rather made use of actual persons and situations and considerably changed them to fit with the needs of the storyline.

[edit] Hana
Hana is a twenty-year-old Canadian Army nurse. Hana is torn between her youth and her maturity. In a sense, she has lost her childhood too early. A good nurse, she learned quickly that she could not become emotionally attached to her patients. She calls them all "buddy", but immediately detaches from them once they are dead. Her lover, a Canadian officer, is killed. Hana comes to believe she is a curse whose friends inevitably die. Symbolic of her detachment and loss of childhood, she cuts off all of her hair and no longer looks in mirrors after three days of working as a nurse.

In contrast to this detachment, upon hearing of her father's death Hana has an emotional breakdown. She then puts all of her energy into caring for the English Patient. She washes his wounds and provides him with morphine. When the hospital is abandoned, Hana refuses to leave and instead stays with her patient. She sees Almásy as saintlike and with the "hipbones of Christ". She falls in love with the English Patient in a purely non-sexual way.

The character of Hana is entirely paradoxical. She is mature beyond her years, but she still clings to childlike practices. She plays hopscotch in the Villa and sees the patient as a noble hero who is suffering. She projects her own romanticized images onto the blank slate of the patient, forming a sort of fairytale existence for herself.

[edit] Kip
Kip is an Indian Sikh. Kip was trained to be a sapper by Lord Suffolk who also, essentially, made him a part of his family. Kip is, perhaps, the most conflicted character of the novel. His brother is an Indian nationalist and strongly anti-Western. By contrast, Kip willingly joined the British military, but he was met with reservations from his white colleagues. This causes Kip to become somewhat emotionally withdrawn.

The one place in England where Kip is completely and unreservedly accepted is the household of Lord Suffolk, the eccentric English nobleman who develops the practice of dismantling unexploded German bombs, a complicated and highly dangerous discipline - and who becomes Kip's mentor, friend and in effect surrogate father. Kip's emotional withdrawal becomes more pronounced when Lord Suffolk and his team are killed while attempting to dismantle a new type of bomb, which detonated. After this event, Kip decides to leave England and work as a sapper in Italy where he meets Hana. He and his partner hear her playing piano, and, as musical instruments were often wired, entered the villa to stop her. Kip's partner leaves the villa and dies so Kip stays on, setting up camp in the courtyard.

Kip and Hana become lovers and, through that, Kip begins to regain confidence and a sense of community. He feels welcomed by these westerners, and they all seem to form a group that disregards national origins.

They get together and celebrate Hana's twenty-first birthday, a symbol of their friendship and Kip's acceptance; however, shortly after, Kip hears news of America's dropping of the atom bomb on Japan. He comes to the conclusion that the West can never reconcile with the East, and that America would never have done something so horrific to a White population. So he leaves and never returns, though later in his life he often thinks of Hana.

[edit] Caravaggio
Caravaggio is an Italian thief and long-time friend of Hana's father. His profession is legitimized by the war, as the allies needed people to steal important documents for them. Caravaggio arrives in the villa as "the man with bandaged hands". His German captors had cut off his thumbs. He, physically and mentally, can no longer steal, having "lost his nerve".

Hana remembers Caravaggio as a very human thief. He would always get distracted by the human element in a job. For instance, if an advent calendar was on the wrong day, he would fix it. She also has deep feelings of love for Caravaggio. It is debated if this love is romantic or simply familial, however Caravaggio does display a romantic love towards Hana in parts of the book.

Caravaggio is also addicted to morphine, as is Almásy. He uses this to get information out of Almásy.

[edit] Katharine Clifton
Katharine is the wife of Geoffrey Clifton. She has an affair with Almásy which her husband finds out about. She is Oxford educated. Almásy falls in love with her as she reads from Almásy's borrowed copy of The Histories around a campfire.

Katharine and Clifton met at Oxford. During the context of events told by The English Patient, she had been married to Geoffrey for only a year. The day after they get married, she and Geoffrey fly to the desert to join Almásy's expedition crew. Once the affair begins, she is torn by guilt and eventually breaks off the affair. After Geoffrey kills himself, and they are stuck in the desert, she admits she always loved Almásy.

[edit] Geoffrey Clifton
Katharine Clifton's husband. He joins Almásy's exploration group as another desert explorer, but is in fact on a secret mission of the British government (military intelligence) to make detailed maps of North Africa. The plane he "owns" is not a "wedding present," but Crown property. To perform his mission, he leaves his beautiful young wife in the desert with the real explorers. Everything else follows.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
2/2/15 ( )
  magerber | Feb 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (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 (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Ondaatjeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dormagen, AdelheidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fiennes, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
"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
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Haiku summary

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)

» see all 13 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
573 avail.
39 wanted
4 pay11 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.93)
0.5 4
1 47
1.5 8
2 94
2.5 35
3 370
3.5 110
4 654
4.5 95
5 642


2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 105,856,280 books! | Top bar: Always visible