The English Patient

Paperback | August 27, 1993

byOndaatje, Michael

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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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From Our Editors

An unforgettable story of love and war, The English Patient is a classic. A young Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb disposal expert, a thief turned spy, and a man burnt beyond recognition, meet in the last moments of the Second World War. The identity of the patient is the heart of the story as he tells his memories of a doomed love affair i...

From the Publisher

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,...

Michael Ondaatje is a novelist and poet who lives in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of In The Skin of a Lion, Coming Through Slaughter, and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid; two collections of poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do; and a memoir, Running in the Family. He received the Booker ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.84 inPublished:August 27, 1993Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:039428013X

ISBN - 13:9780394280134

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Customer Reviews of The English Patient


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than the Movie This is a very complex novel, in terms of chronology and narrative structure, that is very different than the movie based on it. Fans of the movie might be disappointed, but fans of ambitious, beautiful writing will not be.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful This is such a beautiful book. It's very well written with great imagery and is such a poignant story. A great read.
Date published: 2012-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Powerful novel I come late to reading award-winning author, Michael Ondaatje, and decided to discover his story-telling ability through a familiar tale, that of the award-winning film made from his novel, The English Patient. I have been captivated by the film for years. I can now say I have been captivated by Ondaatje's novel. Unlike the film, the novel examines the lives and relationships of Hana, Caravaggio and Kip, rather than the love story between Almasy and Katherine. Ondaatje's research and presentation of the final days of the Italian Campaign of WWII is impeccable and beautifully presented. There is very much a sense of suspension in the story, of lives on hold, of the last breath before the long exhale of release. There is also a remarkable sense of ambiguity in the story, of the search for meaning when in fact there is none. There is only survival and moments of beauty in between. This is a deceptively powerful novel, deceptively powerfully written.
Date published: 2011-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A thinker Make no mistake, this book is a brilliant and beautiful piece of literature, but it's not light reading and it's not for everyone. You have to be willing to sit down and concentrate on it, or it won't do the job. If you do so have the inclination, I urge you to read it, and you won't regret it.
Date published: 2002-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deeper than you think... Because people tend to misunderstand crucial works of art - and then talk about it when asked, I would not have picked up this novel due to some bad reviews from friends. When I needed to do a report however, I hadn't much choice. This book is misunderstood by those who do not analyze it and research its biography and details . When at times it seems not clear who is talking or who they are talking to, it is because it is meant to be that way. It is a great book that can change a reader's perception of his or her sorroundings.Don't judge books by other people's reviews. Actually, don't judge by my review either. If you read it, I promise you won't be disaapointed if you look deeper.
Date published: 2002-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Inadequacy ? The idea that this book represents was what really earned it all of it's recognition, the conflict that the patient faces is something that has no right or wrong answer. However, the style in which it is written, and the format, the descriptions without solid facts, the living and reliving a memory through the eyes of different people, I found that it did not appeal to me at all. It was confusing at best, so I would say if you are a very strong reader who has time to sit down and read through this all at once, by all means, pick this book up, you will enjoy it. :) Moderate readers like me will find it more enjoyable simply to read a summary of the novel and ponder on the moral issues it has raised.
Date published: 2001-12-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Far Too Descriptive No offence to the author, but I really didn't like this book very much. It was far too descriptive (does a person really need to know that 18 cypress trees lined a pathway, the door was three-quartars of the way opened, etc.) and the story just dragged on and on. The only good part of the book was during the last few chapters, the rest of it wasn't very good. The story was well written, but the plot and everything else that went along with it (the characters, setting, etc.) was just plain horrible. The story was so confusing that most of the times, I had no idea who was doing the talking, but don't take my word for it, you can read the book yourself.
Date published: 2001-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "The heaviness of unremembered dreams" Straightforward, this novel isn't. What it is, and I love this about it, is dreamy, enchanting, and involving. I can't remember how many times I've read it, but each time I find new things to enjoy, as one might in a recurring daydream. Which is not to say that it's exactly a happy book. What always amazes me about Michael Ondaatje is how much he knows about, well, everything. Land mines. Peacock bones. Desert archaeology. You have to like someone who is so in love with knowing interesting things.
Date published: 2000-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from English Patient showcases gifted writer's talent If you read random pages in this book, you will find it almost unbearable and will be tempted to put it back down. DON'T! Although I was expected to be challenged by the length of the book, and the success of the film, I was even more enthralled with the story after reading it. Ondaatje's writing pulls you in immediately and doesn't let go until the last word. Even if you have seen the movie, you will have missed the nuances, especially in the thoughts of the characters as they go through their inner struggles. After 3 years, I can still recall the imagery, yes, it was that powerful.
Date published: 2000-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended! A#1 Got the Chance to Read This Excellent Book For My Research Paper. Micheal did a very Good Job!I Love This Book. A Very Serene and Meaningful Novel!
Date published: 2000-04-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Forget the Hype -- it's not that good To tell you the truth, I bought the book after seeing the movie. Big mistake. I should have just bought the video when it was released. In fact, EP is not one of the author's best works. Try his older works, such as In the Skin of the Lion or The Wars. Those characters are more compelling to read about.
Date published: 2000-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Ondaatje weaves a beautiful tale full of intrigue and romance. A very rich read, it will transport you to another time and space. Well worth the cover price.
Date published: 1999-12-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from SUCKED!!!!! This book was one of the worst books that I have even read. It was the worst $16.00 dollars ever!
Date published: 1999-09-21

Extra Content

Read from the Book

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill toward the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.In the kitchen she doesn't pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.She turns into the room which is another garden--this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling. The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.Every four days she washes his black body, beginning at the destroyed feet. She wets a washcloth and holding it above his ankles squeezes the water onto him, looking up as he murmurs, seeing his smile. Above the shins the burns are worst. Beyond purple. Bone.She has nursed him for months and she knows the body well, the penis sleeping like a sea horse, the thin tight hips. Hipbones of Christ, she thinks. He is her despairing saint. He lies flat on his back, no pillow, looking up at the foliage painted onto the ceiling, its canopy of branches, and above that, blue sky.She pours calamine in stripes across his chest where he is less burned, where she can touch him. She loves the hollow below the lowest rib, its cliff of skin. Reaching his shoulders she blows cool air onto his neck, and he mutters.What? she asks, coming out of her concentration.He turns his dark face with its gray eyes towards her. She puts her hand into her pocket. She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.He whispers again, dragging the listening heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months before he died.

Bookclub Guide

CA1. The English patient "whispers again, dragging the listening heart of the young nurse beside him to wherever his mind is, into that well of memory he kept plunging into during those months before he died" [p. 4]. Why does the patient consider himself to have "died"? Does he undergo any kind of rebirth during the course of the story?2. What can you deduce from the novel about Hana's relationship with her father? Has her father's death, and the manner of it, caused her to retreat from the war and devote herself to the English patient? What influence do her feelings for her father have upon her relationship with Caravaggio?3. Why did Hana decide to have an abortion during the war? How has that decision affected her, and how much influence has it had on her life at the villa?4. How does the landscape of the novel—the Villa San Girolamo, the country around it, and the boundary between the two—reflect the inner lives of its inhabitants? Why do you think that Ondaatje has chosen Tuscany as the setting for his story? What significance do other landscapes, like the desert and the English countryside, hold for the story and its characters?5. The English patient says, "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" [p. 261]. How does Ondaatje use maps and cartography as a metaphor for people and history? What does geography mean to the English patient and to Ondaatje's other characters?6. Why has Ondaatje made Caravaggio a thief by profession? What is it in his character that makes such an occupation appropriate? "All his life he has avoided permanent intimacy" [p. 116]. Does Caravaggio change during the course of the novel? Does he ever come to accept intimacy, and if so, what type of intimacy and intimacy with whom?7. The imagery at the beginning of the novel likens the patient to Christ. Later, Caravaggio says to Hana, "You don't love him, you adore him," to which she answers, "He is a saint" [p. 45]. Who else is likened to a saint, and why? Where else in the novel can you find religious imagery, and what is its purpose? The night before the Hiroshima explosion Kip sleeps in a church. What is the subject of the painting he sees there, and what is its thematic relation to the imminent atomic explosion?8. "I came to hate nations," says the English patient. "We are deformed by nation-states" [p. 138]. How does the desert negate the idea of nations? What sort of supra-national unity is experienced by the Europeans drawn to the desert, and how does each of them respond to the beginning of war? What alternate view of geography and history does the desert offer?9. After Hiroshima, Caravaggio finds himself agreeing with Kip that "they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation" [p. 286]. How does the subject of race and racism enter into this novel? What conclusions, if any, are drawn at the end?10. Why do you think that Hana removes all the mirrors in the house and puts them in an empty room? Is her own physical presence disturbing to her, or simply irrelevant?11. What does this novel tell us about the British Empire at the moment it was beginning to dissolve? What are its moral strengths and its fatal weaknesses, as presented by the novel and its characters? What aspect of the Empire do Kip and Lord Suffolk represent, and what does Lord Suffolk's death symbolize? Was Kip completely misguided in attaching himself to the British? Is his revulsion from them at the end a reasonable response, or is it too violent?12. "I think when I see him at the foot of my bed that Kip is my David" [p. 116], says the English patient. How can you describe the connection the patient feels between himself and Kip? Is it emotional, political, or dependent upon some other tie? In what way do the two men reflect one another?13. "Madox was a man who died because of nations" [p. 242], says the English patient. What is it about Madox that makes him experience disillusionment as hopelessness, and commit suicide, while Kip is able to create new life out of similar disillusionment?14. Why does Katherine treat her lover with physical violence? What does it say about the relationship between the two, and about Almasy's own character? What does the manner of Katherine's death tell us? Does it seem to you that Almasy links sex with death and pain? Can you find other places in the novel where sex and death are explicitly connected?15. What needs and motivations originally drew Hana and Kip together? Might their relationship have been a lasting one, had it not been for the Hiroshima bombing? Why do they not keep in touch in later life, though they continue to think so often of one another?16. Why do you think that Hana, unlike Kip, has finally "not found her own company, the ones she wanted" [p. 301]? Can Hana be seen as a "victim" of the war, or have her experiences in Italy simply made her more clearsighted and realistic? How do her two renditions of "La Marseillaise" indicate the change that the war has wrought in her?17. Can the novel can be seen as a mystery, with the identity of the English patient at its heart? Does Caravaggio's identification of the patient solve the mystery, or does there remain a question at the end? How do other characters in The English Patient. such as Hana, Kip, and Katherine, discover or come to terms with their own identities?18. How would you describe Ondaatje's style: does the story resemble a film perhaps, or a dream? Why has he chosen this mode in which to write this particular tale? What is his purpose in making the action move backward and forward in time?19. The English Patient refers explicitly to Rudyard Kipling's Kim. If you know this novel, how does its presence within the text contribute to Ondaatje's theme? In what way, if any, do the characters in The English Patient correspond to those in Kim? Is it significant that Kip was born in Lahore?

From Our Editors

An unforgettable story of love and war, The English Patient is a classic. A young Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb disposal expert, a thief turned spy, and a man burnt beyond recognition, meet in the last moments of the Second World War. The identity of the patient is the heart of the story as he tells his memories of a doomed love affair in the North African desert. Love and passion are set against the devastation of war in this inspired novel by Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje.