Length: 320 pages
About: English WW2 survivor nursed in Italy
Style: 3rd person
Where: Italy & Africa
Set in 1945, The English Patient explores the lives of four very disparate war torn people, a young woman and three men, who take refuge in a damaged villa north of Florence as the war retreats
around them. In an upstairs room lies the badly burned English patient, alive but unable to move. His extraordinary adventures and turbulent love affair in the North African desert before the war
provide the focus around which the vivid tales of his companions revolve. His very presence will forever change the destiny of those around him.
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 herconcentration.
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
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.
Reading "The English Patient," you hold on to the gunnel and your hat at the start. But by the end you find yourself resting on the bottom of the boat, with your hat over your face to keep off Mr.
Ondaatje's too brilliant prose.
The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt , October 29th 1992 to see full review click
Not so good:
Granted, of course, that a Sikh man would by religious custom have long hair tied up in his turban -- still, the unexamined feminization here of Asian man by Western woman makes me uneasy. Or is
it the absence of a more balanced sense of how he experiences her ? It troubles me also that the ending of this interracial romance, though in itself historically plausible, is effected by means of
the news of Hiroshima's bombing, and an immediately ensuing breakdown on the part of Kirpal Singh. The fit between devastating public event and the fiction of private life here seems just too neatly
New York Times, Judith Grossman 1st November 1992 to see full review click here
About the author
Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943. He moved to England in 1954, and in 1962 moved to Canada where he has lived ever since. He was educated at the University of Toronto and Queen’s
University in Kingston, Ontario, and began teaching at York University in Toronto in 1971. He published a volume of memoir, entitled Running in the Family, in 1983. His collections of poetry include
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems (1981), which won the Canadian Governor General’s Award in 1971. Michael Ondaatje lives in Toronto with his wife, Linda Spalding, with whom he
edits the literary journal Brick.