[Review] The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

Title: The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf 1992
Genre: Fiction
Theme: A badly burned patient being cared for in an Italian villa by a nurse, Canadian soldier, and Indian soldier during WWII.
Format: Hardcover
Age: Adult
Pages: 320
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Library

The English Patient won a Booker Prize for fiction, the Canadian Governor General's Award.

I've seen the movie in brief snippets, never from beginning to end. What I've read from other reviews the book and move differ, the movie being better than the book. I find this odd. If a movie differs too much from a book than it's really its own entity, only an slight adaption of the book. In the movie the focus is on the love affair between Almasy and Katharine. In the book their affair is apart of the story, but to me it was not the main focus. In the book they had an affair, but I saw no love-at least in their action towards one another. Katharine was volatile, abusive. Almasy was a man who did not feel an attachment to any country, his life focus was on topography and the search for the lost oasis of Zerzura.

The time period is 1945, as the war is ending in Europe and before the war ended in Japan. 
The English Patient is a badly burned man. He is cared for by a nurse in an abandoned villa in Italy. His nurse chose to stay behind to care for him when the military hospital pulled out of the area. The nurses name is Hana, age 20, from Canada. Her father died in the war. Her father's friend David Caravaggio hears about her being at the villa and joins her and the English Patient. A young Indian Sikh named Kip who was a sapper in an English unit comes upon the villa. He decides to stay and diffuse the bombs. 

My Thoughts:
  1. When the book began I had hopes this was going to be a beautifully written story. The prose "is" sensual and intoxicating. Since I'd not seen the movie, the book could be a clean and fresh look at the story. 
  2. Along the way I realized all the characters were suffering from combat related injuries, whether their scars were visually apparent or hidden behind skin and bone. All four had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  3. All four characters acted-out and sought comfort because of their mental or physical condition.
  4. The English Patient is the character that created the need for the other three to have to stay in the villa. He is the epicenter of the story, yet each of the characters have their own strong individual stories.
  5. I do not feel that the affair between the English Patient and the married Katharine was loving. Maybe they had loving moments, but her volatile nature of hurling abuse at him does not define real love. I guess psychoanalysis would've helped.
  6. The English Patient came across to me as a man without loyalties, he's a vagabond and gypsy. He had kept hidden any emotion, till he met Katharine. When Katharine read aloud from his beloved book, that act pierced his heart and allowed feelings to develop with her. I believe both of them were emotionally stunted. Possibly something from their past that had wounded them. Maybe together they loved each other the best they could. 
  7. My favorite characters: Hana and Kip. Both of them are devoted people. They're loyal, persevering and passionate.
  8. My ending feelings on the book is not how I felt when I read the first page. I do believe it is a story that I'll not forget. All of the characters are broken people, it is difficult to watch (in my mind) their plight. Each of them need to dig out of their grief, diffuse the bomb that is inside of them. There is symbolism in what Kip did in diffusing bombs and the bombs that are in each of the characters.
  9. This is a sad story, no happy moments, no happy ending. 
Link @ Amazon:
Paperback $12.06
Kindle $11.99


  1. This book has been sitting on my shelf for ages, so I really need to get around to reading it. I haven't seen the movie...I've been avoiding it on purpose because I have to read the book first! Thanks for the warning that it's a sad story, I like to be prepared.


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