The English Patient

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{son, year, death}
{film, series, show}
{god, call, give}
{war, force, army}
{service, military, aircraft}
{disease, patient, cell}
{land, century, early}
{day, year, event}
{water, park, boat}
{acid, form, water}
{work, book, publish}

The English Patient is a 1992 novel by Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje. The story deals with the gradually revealed histories of a critically burned English accented Hungarian man, his Canadian nurse, a Canadian-Italian thief, and an Indian sapper in the British Army as they live out the end of World War II in an Italian villa. The novel won the Canadian Governor General's Award and the Booker Prize for fiction. The novel was adapted into an award-winning film of the same name in 1996. The narrative is non-linear and the main characters are examined in depth and detail.


Plot summary

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 cartography 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 ordinance 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 Cliftons' 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.

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