Title:
The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: McLelland & Stewart
Year of publication: 1992
The English Patient is set near the end of the Second World
War. Hana, a young Canadian nurse from Toronto, leaves her
unit and assigns herself a post in a small ruined villa near
Florence so that she can take care of a victim of a plane crash.
The patient had crashed into the desert in northern Africa and
had been brought to Italy. He remembers nothing at first, but
gradually familiar sounds and stories help him remember past
events. He tells his story to Caravaggio, a Canadian spy who is
posted next door, and to Kip, an Indian sapper who befriends
Hana. The patient had been a member of a field team of desert
mapmakers and fallen in love with Katherine, the woman on their
teamÕs expedition. He relates their story of tragic love.
This book is an very original idea. Reading any paragraph, the
first thing one notices is that the description is entirely in the
present tense. This approach give the book the flavor of a
summary and makes the actions seem more real. The sentence
structure is generally loose, and parts read much like poetry, like
this:
River-mud arrow-wood formaldehyde paraffin ether. ThatÕs a
sentence on its own.
The writing appeals to the readers mind mostly by making strong
images.
A film of this book was released recently, and is still in the
theaters. It is an excellent reproduction of the book, and keeps
to the plot very carefully. The pace of events is somewhat
schizophrenic, though, because the English patientÕs story in the
film is introduced early on, and the scene alternates between the
desert in the 1930s and Italy during the war. That part of the
story is given a stronger emphasis, a sub-plot that in the book is
only introduced later.
Overall, I found this book to be a wonderful study in love. The
relationship between Katherine Clifton and the patient reminded
me of Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. I
recommend this book to anyone who wants a long, thoughtful,
informative read. The movie, although it presents a bit less
background information than we need, is also a sure bet.
Thank You.
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