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The English Patient (1992)

by Michael Ondaatje

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
11,737174570 (3.9)787
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)
  1. 90
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (ecureuil, Johanna11)
  2. 31
    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)
  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. 10
    Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (wolfgrin)
  5. 21
    Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (Nickelini)
  6. 11
    Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth by Norman Lewis (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: A diary by a British soldier in Italy around the same time.
  7. 00
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (sturlington)
  8. 01
    Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje (stevereads)
  9. 01
    Chef by Jaspreet Singh (IamAleem)
  10. 13
    Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernières (Johanna11)
  11. 25
    Snow Falling on Cedars 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.
AP Lit (139)
Africa (50)
1990s (213)
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» See also 787 mentions

English (158)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (3)  Danish (2)  Hungarian (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Lithuanian (1)  French (1)  All languages (173)
Showing 1-5 of 158 (next | show all)
I can tell this is a well-crafted book, but I did not enjoy it. It has the flavor of a narrative in the way LaCroix has the flavor of fruit. I can tell it's there but can never hold on to it. I like the characters from the little I learned of them, I wish this was more substantive and less sad war vibes. ( )
  KallieGrace | Jul 10, 2024 |
Read twice over
  BJMacauley | Jul 6, 2024 |
Romance
  BooksInMirror | Feb 19, 2024 |
Few books are felt as much as read, but The English Patient falls into this category. Like the film, it is hauntingly beautiful, but for slightly different reasons. The story of people haunted by love and war, their damaged souls converging at a villa in Italy, remains, but the focus and method in which the story is told on paper is filled with poetic passages, and stunning beauty.

The passages are like water moving to and fro over rocks, shifting back and forth in time so that the beauty beneath can still be seen, but as a shimmering mirage in the desert. It is a strange instance where it is almost recommended that you see the film first in order to appreciate more clearly in your mind the characters as their stories unfold.

Whereas the film focused more on the burned Almasy and his memories of the unending African desert, where he would meet the enigmatic and beautiful Katherine Clifton, sealing the fate which would leave him a charred and hollow shell of his former self, Hanah is the focal point of Ondaatje's lovely poetic prose in the novel. You can almost feel the ghosts hovering over each character as Ondaatje paints a masterpiece with words rather than a brush.

Deeply romantic and lyrical, it is the same story as told in the film, but a more impressionistic and less linear portrait of love and loss. The book is like a delicate flower just beneath the water's surface, its beauty evident but achingly kept just out of reach. The film brought the flower into the sun so we could enjoy its texture and fragrance in more visceral fashion. Both are magnificent, just a different picture of the same flower.

If you loved the film, you must read the book. It is a hauntingly beautiful novel different from anything else you'll ever read. Literary fiction can often be dry and unrewarding, a lot of beautiful words and lovely phrases meant to impress us, but all too often leaving us cold and disinterested. Such is not the case here. This is a perfect storm of prose and story achieved only once by Ondaatje. A masterwork of rich and evocative prose that will surely touch the heart, an organ of fire. ( )
  Matt_Ransom | Oct 6, 2023 |
This is a very beautifully written book, with the lyrical style that was all the rage in the 90s. However, I also found it rather uneven in terms of plotting, with some of the sections being compelling and others rather dull. I found I couldn't relate to all of the characters, either. Some of them, such as Hana and Kip, were very interesting and revealed themselves gradually, while others, such as Caravaggio and the English patient himself, were pretty unlikely and only became more so as the book went on.

And despite its rhythm and descriptive force, the prose is occasionally incomprehensible. I think this was partly because many of the insights offered by the author are not that interesting, or even necessarily true. So I found that I wasn't understanding the sections which were meant to have the greatest emotional impact and that when I slowed down to pick them apart the rewards were not great enough to justify the effort.

I suspect that readers who are able to buy into the romance on offer here might find the book much more rewarding than I did. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 158 (next | show all)
Ondaatje gibt jedem Charakter die Möglichkeit, sich dem Leser zu präsentieren und die ganz eigene Geschichte zu erzählen. Dabei ergreift er nicht Partei, sondern lässt die Figuren ganz einfach aus ihrem Blickwinkel erzählen. Die Schnittstelle, die sie verbinden, werden durch die Orte, an denen sie sich aufgehalten haben, definiert und dadurch geradezu greifbar. Zufälligkeiten scheinen ursächlich zu sein, dass die Personen in Kontakt treten und wieder voneinander scheiden. Die Schwierigkeit, jeder Figur ihren Platz innerhalb dieser Geschichte zuzuweisen, ohne den Faden zu verlieren, bewältigt Ondaatje meisterhaft.
 
... 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.
 
Una vez oí a una mujer africana decir que no se podía describir África, que África solo se entiende si se ha vivido allí. Hace años ya de aquel momento y, sin embargo, esas palabras se me han quedado grabadas y las recuerdo con frecuencia. Por ejemplo, me han venido a la memoria al leer El paciente inglés, de Michael Ondaatje, y no solo porque hable de lo que supone atravesar el desierto de Libia, algo inimaginable para nuestras cabezas acostumbradas a vidas sencillas, sino porque además transmite el peso de la guerra, un hecho también inconcebible para los que siempre hemos vivido en paz.
 

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ondaatje, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bekker, Jos denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BloomsburyPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dormagen, AdelheidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fiennes, RalphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Iyer, PicoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
KnopfPublishersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, LeePhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"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
Dedication
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.
Quotations
“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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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.

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