The English Patient

With unsettling beauty and intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II.The nurse Hana, exhausted by death, obsessively tends to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief, tries to reimagine who he is, now that his hands are hopelessly maimed. The Indian sapper Kip searches for hidden bombs in a landscape where nothing is safe but himself. And at the center of his labyrinth lies the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, a man who is both a riddle and a provocation to his companions—and whose memories of suffering, rescue, and betrayal illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning.


  • Paperback: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (November 30, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745204
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (455 customer reviews)
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4 thoughts on “The English Patient”

  1. Set at the end of World War II in an Italian villa, The English Patient brings together four unlikely characters: Hana, an emotionally-wounded army nurse who refuses to leave her last patient even when ordered to evacuate; Caravaggio, a friend of Hana’s father, thief and spy, a man who is drawn to Hana in ways he cannot articulate; Kip, an Indian sapper loyal to the British military who disarms bombs by day, loves Hana by night; and the mysterious burned invalid, the English patient of the title, who unites them all in unexpected ways. Told in poetic, often elliptical language, this novel demands to be savored instead of read voraciously. The images are just as likely to be visually precise as they are inexplicable. Unlike the movie, which concentrates on the love story between the English patient and the woman he loved, the novel is more about the confusing impulses that lead to both passion and danger in all the characters.
    Serious readers of literature should read this novel more than once, for its subtleties, imagery, and the force of its lyricism. More casual readers may find it tough reading, not because the language is inaccessible but because of the way Ondaatje backs into his story. Those who stick with the author’s poetic turns will be well-rewarded by the end.

  2. There was a time, not too long ago, when you could sit in a cafe and hear the words The English Patient within the half hour, either that or see someone with their head ducked into the pages of the book between slurps of coffee. Of course this popularity made me wary of the book and the movie and I formed ready stereotypes and turned my attention elsewhere. Then the paperback copies of the book started to come out with the actors faces on it, and I have vowed never to by a book that brandishes its connection to the movie version of the story – call me a grumpy old man, but it seems that the book was the book before it was the movie and I’d much rather form my own visual and dramatic accompaniment to the text without seeing the face of some actor. (Disclaimer: I might love the movie if I actually saw it, but that’s not the point!)

    And yet, poetic justice prevails. On a slow winter morning at my coffee shop, I looked warily over at a copy of The English Patient that someone had left on the shelf months ago. In fact, I didn’t even think that I was picking up “The English Patient”, and instead looked to the merits of the book’s fine author Michael Ondaatje. I thought of Anil’s Ghost, which I enjoyed, and Coming through Slaughter, and thought it might do me good to start off my day with a glance at the inspired prose of a great writer. Later, I would read about Hana reading to the English patient: “When she begins a book she enters through stilted doorwas into large courtyards. Parma and Paris and India spread their carpets.” In the first paragraph of this book, we enter into The Villa, following Hana into the room where the English patient lies. “She turns into the room which is another garden – this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling.Read more ›

  3. “The English Patient” is, without a doubt, one of my very favorite books. It is lush, beautiful and gorgeous. And the glory of it is that it got that way with fine, first-rate writing. You won’t find any gimmicks or … tricks here.
    Unlike the movie, the book begins in war-torn Italy (1944) where we encounter Hana, a Canadian nurse and a horribly burned man known only as, “the English patient.” Alone in an isolated, abandoned convent, Hana stays behind when her friends move on to care for the dying English patient. Hana is a rare individual and truly caring. She spends her days reading to the English patient from the volume of Herodotus that was found with him and, when his pain becomes too great, she injects him with morphine.
    Hana and the English patient aren’t alone long, however. A mysterious man named Caravaggio soon arrives and it becomes clear that he has an agenda all his own. Nevertheless, it is Caravaggio who succeeds with the English patient where others have failed. This trio is soon joined by a Sikh named Kip, a man who will play a role in Hana’s life, just as she will play a role in his.
    Eventually, of course, we learn all about the English patient, who really isn’t English at all, but a Hungarian count named, Almasy. We learn where he’s been and why and how he came to be so horribly burned. We learn about the great love of his life, a love that sadly, was doomed from the very start.
    This is a book that is told on two levels and contains two love stories. One takes place in the past and the other takes place in the present. While Hana’s story is told in the present tense, it is not as involving or as intense as is the love story involving Almasy that takes place in the past.Read more ›

  4. The English Patient written by Michael Ondaatje
    Michael Ondaatje’s stunning novel takes place as the Second World War is ending. The author creates four unforgettable characters and brings them together in an abandoned and damaged Italian villa as the war retreats around them. It is their lives and memories that “The English Patient” follows and explores.
    Hana is a young Canadian nurse and her late father’s friend, Caravaggio, is a professional thief and Allied spy who was brutally maimed during the war. Kip, a Sikh “sapper”, lives on the edge of death in the fields of bomb disposal.
    And the central force around which the action spins is the mysterious title character – the English Patient, the nameless, burnt victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal, and rescue illuminates the book.
    They are all fascinated by this dying man, burnt beyond recognition and who refuses to unveil his name or country of origin. His story, set in the deserts of North Africa, unfolds through a series of flashbacks taking place in the abandoned villa. Through the rest of the novel, Hana, Caravaggio and Kip try to discover his true identity while he tells them stories of his past.
    “The English Patient” is fabulous. It is all very poetic, the plot, the descriptions. It transforms your view of the world, turning it into a glorious, magical place that does not exist or does it? The author I read on the inside of the cover was first a poet and then became a novelist. And this novel is filled with page upon page of poetry, though it is written in novel form. “The English Patient” is perhaps the most beautiful novel I have ever read.
    When I started to read the book I was a bit surprised that it was written in a third person.Read more ›

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