The English Patient

The English Patient

A Novel

Book - 1992
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Michael Ondaatje's stunning novel takes place during the final moments of the Second World War. It explores the lives of four people who come together in a damaged villa in Tuscany as the war retreats around a young Canadian nurse; an enigmatic thief whose skills have made him one of the war's heroes as well as one of its casualties; a Sikh soldier in the British army; and the English patient, who lies badly burned in an upstairs room. It is his adventures and turbulent love affair in the North African desert before the war, gradually uncovered, that become the centre around which these people's past and present lives unfold. Set mainly in Italy, this is a breathtaking story of love and passion that arcs back in time to Canada, to London during the Blitz and the intricacies of bomb disposal, and to the mysterious, often dangerous world of desert exploration. Michael Ondaatje brings his formidable poetic and narrative powers to bear on the destiny of his characters. In luminous prose, he reveals the complex impact of public conflict on private lives.
Publisher: Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, c1992.
ISBN: 9780771068867
Characteristics: 307 p. ;,24 cm.


From Library Staff

This classic, Booker Prize-winning novel of the Second World War needs nearly no introduction. (Because you’ve all seen the movie, or at least seen the Seinfeld episode about the movie.) It follows four characters whose lives intersect in a villa in Italy during WWII, one of whom being the eponym... Read More »

From the critics

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Sep 03, 2020

This book is probably great if your looking for something artistic. I did like the references to Ruyard Kipling’s Kim. I personally did not enjoy this book I found that the story was dull, overly dream like and fragmented.

Jun 10, 2020

Referred by Deb Z 6/20

May 05, 2020

After reading Ondaatje’s “Warlight,” we decided to try “The English Patient” in our reading project, especially since the film had received good reviews. We found the novel rather difficult, in that it moves back and forth in time (and geography) abruptly and the author changes from first to third person frequently in certain parts of the narrative. Like Warlight, this book revolves around real events before and during the Second World War. The author has carefully constructed four characters to display quite different outlooks on life and throws them into a close relationship with one another. We get to watch the results. The principal feeling we took from the interplay was one of Weltschmerz. I cannot recommend this book to anyone who is not willing to give it a slow and careful reading. It is full of historical and literary allusions and needs to be studied almost more than simply being read.

Aug 26, 2019

This book is not the worst English language novel of the last 50 years, but it is probably the most overrated. It is a travesty of literary taste and critical judgement not only that Barry Unsworth's magnificent Sacred Hunger had to share the 1992 Booker Prize with Ondaatje's book, but that this latter won the 2018 "Golden Man Booker" for the best Booker Prize book of the previous 50 years!

It takes about a third of the book for the improbable assembly of the characters in the abandoned Italian villa at the end of WWII, much of the time spent in mysterious and moody "poetic" vamping. You begin to wonder if the real English Patient is not the burned man, but the tortured reader of such a slow moving English language novel. When we finally start to get revelations of the burned man's story, it is a romantic melodrama full of wildly incredible inexplicabilities -- psychological, historical, and even physical.

However, you may not notice these lapses because of the overwrought "beautiful" writing slathered over the events and laid down in great slabs between the plot episodes. There are also frequent insertions of strange, thinly motivated, portentous "stage business" -- unconvincing actions and events that neither advance the plot nor disclose or develop the characters.

Apr 19, 2019

This book is a matter of taste. I really liked it's moodiness and vague characters.

Feb 16, 2019

This book was so slow.

When I was reading this Canadian classic, it seemed everyone I encountered wanted to talk about the book. They all had glowing things to say, and I have to agree, I loved this story. The story centers around three men and a woman living in a crumbling Italian villa at the end of the Second World War – a Canadian nurse, a Sikh bomb disposal expert, a Canadian thief-turned-spy, and a heavily burned man who is known only as “the English patient”. Part of the novel is centered around this mystery of the English patient’s identity, but also recounts the patient’s tumultuous love affair in the North African desert in the 1930s. Ondaatje’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and now I’m really looking forward to reading his newest novel, The Cat’s Table! (submitted by AA)

debwalker Jul 09, 2018

Golden Man Booker!

RogerDeBlanck Jun 19, 2018

The English Patient is a powerfully evocative and mesmerizing portrait of the personal toll of war. The haunting storylines take place during the latter days of the Second World War in a small Italian town where three war-wearied individuals converge at a villa. Each of them has varying interest in a fourth character, an utterly unrecognizable Englishman suffering from burns over his entire body. This “English patient” may or may not be who he claims to be, or he may be more than he wants to reveal. Linking characters over time and place, Ondaatje is masterful at unraveling the wounded depth of their pasts. He brings beauty to their trials and finds something lovely out of the horrors and psychological scars of their experiences. The novel explores the obsession of love, the passion of longing, the secrets of identity, and the sources of sadness, insanity, and healing. Ondaatje is that rare writer who can balance the dichotomy of love and hate, kindness and betrayal, and compassion and contempt. The aching lushness of his language and the sureness of his words attain a superior level of craftsmanship. Having read this novel several times, I continue to discover new and enlightening insights each time. Its impact does not diminish.

Aug 31, 2017

Guys, this is no Harlequin, or other production-line Romance Novel.
It is an eloquent telling of a story's story's story.
It's scope is merely alluded to in the opening chapters. As the character's roles and separate storylines begin to coalesce, it takes-on an adventurous, grand breadth in a surprisingly unique manner, while it's historical setting realistically influences the plot.
If you're a passionate Romantic like me, be warned:
Upon completion of the book, it took me awhile....
to pick-up all the pieces of my thoroughly broken Heart.
But THAT.....(sniff) good storytelling!

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Sep 05, 2012

When we are young we do not look into mirrors. It is when we are old, concerned with our names, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future. We become vain with the names we own, our claims to have been the first eyes, the strongest army, the cleverest merchant. It is when he is old that Narcissus wants a graven image of himself

Sep 05, 2012

When we are young we do not look into mirrors. It is when we are old, concerned with our names, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future. We become vain with the names we own, our claims to have been the first eyes, the strongest army, the cleverest merchant. It is when he is old that Narcissus wants a graven image of himself

Sep 05, 2012

When we are young we do not look into mirrors. It is when we are old, concerned with our names, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future. We become vain with the names we own, our claims to have been the first eyes, the strongest army, the cleverest merchant. It is when he is old that Narcissus wants a graven image of himself

May 16, 2010

"My darling. I'm waiting for you. How long is the day in the dark? Or a week? The fire is gone, and I'm horribly cold. I really should drag myself outside but then there'd be the sun. I'm afraid I waste the light on the paintings, not writing these words. We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we've entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we've hidden in - like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Where the real countries are. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you'll come carry me out to the Palace of Winds. That's what I've wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps. The lamp has gone out and I'm writing in the darkness." - Katharine Clifton


Add a Summary
Jul 16, 2014

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, contains vivid imagery to help set up the stories' setting, and helping to describe the protagonist in the story (The English Patient). The English Patient is described as a severely burnt victim from a plane accident that took place during the war, however he has no recollection of his identity. Throughout the story the reader tries to figure out who he truly is through flashbacks and his own thoughts. Moreover, another strong character in this book is Hana, the nurse taking care of the English Patient, and she seems to struggle with her own problems dealing with love, and the stress of living in a war environment. This book has a very unique narration due to the flashbacks that occur, and is written by a poet, so everything stated is symbolic in a way; thus this book is a higher level book, recommended to readers who want a challenge, and are a little higher up on the age range.

May 16, 2010

The English Patient tells the stories of four individuals whose lives come together at the end of World War II in an abandoned Italian villa: Hana, a 20-year-old nurse from Canada who seeks refuge from the proliferation of wartime death; Kirpal (Kip) Singh, a 25-year-old "sapper," or bomb dismantler, from India who is a member of the British Army; David Caravaggio, a friend of Hana's father who worked as a spy during the war and was severely disfigured while a captive of the Germans; and Hana's patient, a severely burned man whose identity is the mystery at the heart of this novel. Each of these characters finds him or herself far away from home, displaced by the war, and each of them finds a quiet refuge in the abandoned Italian villa to reconstruct their lives. While Hana and Kip eventually develop a romantic relationship, Caravaggio becomes more and more obsessed with the patient's true identity: Caravaggio believes that the patient may not be English, as everyone assumed, but a Hungarian who worked as a spy for the Germans. Interspersed into the story of the lives of these characters together in Italy are each character's clear recollections of the past, including the patient's hallucinatory memories of a torrid love affair, of desert exploration, and of friendship and betrayal. The novel becomes a collage of memories that explores themes of war, nationality, identity, loss, and love.

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May 16, 2010

mbazal thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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May 16, 2010

Violence: This title contains Violence.

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