Friday, September 30, 2011

The English Patient-Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje

Everyman’s Library, Oct 4 2011, $24.99

ISBN: 9780307700872

Hana the Canadian nurse has cared for the English Patient for four months. She knows his body as well as a lover would, but knows very little about who he really is. The Bedouin found him in the Sahara when he ejected from his crashing blazing airplane. They put out the fire engulfing his body, wrapped him carefully and brought him to the Italian villa where the allies set up a hospital amidst undetonated Nazi bombs. Now the others have left except for the maniacal nurse and her English Patient.

Hana is not concerned with who her English Patient is and what he might have done or even if he is married; as he has given her a reason to live. Still grieving the death of her father, Hana feels that the unknown burn victim is her family. However, her idyllic parasite is invaded by thieving spy Caravaggio who was tortured and maimed by the enemy, and Kip the Sikh from India working as a sapper mine detonation expert for the British army in North Africa. The newcomers feel as displaced by the war as do the Canadian and her patient.

This is reprint of one of the most haunting classic war stories ever written. The story line focuses on displacement of four people who had diverse roles in WWII. Each character is fully developed coming from different cultures though all are part of the sun setting on the British Empire as the war closes. All’s quiet on the African front, but the aftermath of war remains as volatile as the unexploded ordinance; symbolized by these protagonists who come together over the mystery of whom is the English Patient.

Harriet Klausner

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