The English Patient

The English Patient

A Novel

Book - 1996
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1. 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?
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient . We hope they will give you a number of interesting angles from which to  consider this mesmerizing work of fiction, a novel that is simultaneously mysterious, poetic, and romantic. It is 1944, and the war in central Italy is over.  It has moved north, leaving in its wake a landscape of ruined places and people.  In an isolated Tuscan villa that served as a military hospital, two people remain, forgotten by the rest of the world: a young Canadian nurse, Hana, almost destroyed by war and the death of her father, and her last patient, a man burned beyond recognition, who drifts in and out of his own memories and dreams.  Into their lives comes Caravaggio, a thief who has been tortured and maimed by wartime   inquisitors, and Kip, a young Sikh who has spent the war dismantling bombs.  While events taking place in the outside world prove that history has reached a definitive turning point, in the Villa San Girolamo Ondaatje's four protagonists carry on a remote, intensely personal existence, as they play out their interior drama.

Publisher: Toronto : Vintage Books, 1996, c1992
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780676970081
0676970087
Characteristics: 305 p. ; 21 cm

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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.

w
Weyes2Wonder
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.
THAT.....(sniff)....is good storytelling.

k
KSerá
Mar 25, 2016

I am so glad I finally read the book even though I didn't like the movie, which trivializes everything except the sick "romance" between Almasay and Katherine.

m
mnaclerio
Feb 27, 2016

I am a big fan of Mr. Ondaatje's writing. If you haven't read " n the Skin of a Lion" (my personal favorite) you owe to yourself to have of pleasure of reading such a touching and romantic novel

c
Calibro
Feb 25, 2016

Note to Library Staff: Under the image of the book's cover there is a description that the story takes place "in a deserted Indian villa."
It takes place in an Italian villa.

lbarkema Oct 29, 2014

Ugh. Not my cup of tea. Boring, confusing, pretentious... It gets a 1.5 instead of 1 because there were glimpses here and there where I understood what was going on and it wasn't terrible, but overall this book felt like it was 1,000 pages and I was just trudging through the haze of nonsensical sentences.

m
molmil8
Jan 17, 2014

This is the book that made me fall in love with CanLit. So romantic and beautiful, in so many ways. Read it 3 times. Saw the movie many years later, it does do the book justice (the soundtrack CD is great), worth renting assuming you have read the book first, of course. As a rule, I don't like too much description, but this book is exceptional, you will be in the desert, in post WW2 Europe. The characters are sharply defined and become so real as you read.

joanniek Jun 07, 2013

This is a favourite of mine. I love all of his books, but I like this one for it's imagery and characters.

s
StellaCometa
Oct 18, 2012

One of my very favourite books - the language is amazing.

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solasistim4
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

s
solasistim4
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

s
solasistim4
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

m
mbazal
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

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sn293610
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.

m
mbazal
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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mbazal
May 16, 2010

mbazal thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

Notices

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mbazal
May 16, 2010

Violence: This title contains Violence.

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