The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje | Book Review

I cannot really fathom what goes through Michael Ondaatje’s mind. How can someone write such beautiful prose that leaves you breathless? The magic of the Ondaatje book is that you float with it as if in a smooth flowing brook. And once you have read the book, there is no going back. You can never be the same. The words will fill your very being. They will step into that deep longing within your heart.

The English Patient is a book that is to be read at a leisurely pace for you cannot really rush through it. The book will captivate you. You will not be able to help but admire the sheer beauty of words connected together. The English Patient is written in a style that is remnant of memories, the way you skip from one memory to another and all of a sudden are transported into the world no longer reachable.

It requires getting used to the writing style. They are, at some points, a mere collection of fragments, casting a shadow on the personality of the characters. Perhaps, giving you a peek into their lives before the War. They open a window to the soul of characters, offering an insight into what shaped them.

Every word seems to be pregnant with meaning and emotions; pulling you in deeper. You stop and stare at the emotional intensity that may sometimes grip you. When in the midst of Ondaatje’s prose in The English Patient; you will come out as a different person.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje: Book Summary

The English Patient is a book about people torn apart by War, by love and by the memories that haunt them. You will often find them going back to the things that mattered to them, the small narratives that have changed them into beings that they are today.

In English Patient we follow the lives of four people, all damaged by the war and loss, while they try to make sense of their past and their lost loves. The English Patient is a book about memories and about the collective weight of history told in a beautiful style of Michael Onddatje.

A thief, a sapper, a nurse and a patient; all trying to make sense out of their past, living through it daily and at some point being silenced by it too. It’s a book marked by nostalgia and memories that will often bewitch you.

The four characters of the book — Caravaggio the thief, Hanna the nurse, Kip the Sapper and The English Patient. The story is set in the time of WWII, in which everyone played a part. Every character is connected very deeply. Through the book, we discover that each one of them helps the other in heal their wounds.

The English Patient in his burned state often trailed back to mapping the African landscape before the world war, to the memory of Katherine and his love affair with her that ended tragically. Almasy, the burned patient in the Italian Villa was a desert explorer who fell in love with Katherine Clifton, when she and her husband Geofrey Clifton joined Almasy’s troop in the Sahara Desert. This passionate love affair became the driving force of his life and to which, during his burned state, kept going back.

Hana: Hana stays behind in the villa to take care of the English patient. She also suffers through the wounds of her past. Stricken by the death of his father and the constant barrage of wounded soldiers, many of whom died in her arms when she was a nurse. she finds comfort through English Patient and while taking care of him learns to heal her own wounds.

Caravaggio: A masterly thief who was tortured and had his thumbs cut off when he was caught. He knew Hana since childhood and came to the Italian Villa when he learned about Hana’s whereabouts in a hospital.

Kip: He enters the life of Hana, Caravaggio & the English Patient when his squad comes to Italy. Kip, who worked in the bomb disposal squad was also silenced by the tragic incidents of his past. He often tried to block them through music. However, he also finds solace through a love affair with Hana.

The English Patient is a complex book to read, it’s jumbled up like every human memory. The narrative changes very quickly. At one point, you are in the midst of Almasy’s memory and then all of a sudden you are back in the present witnessing Caravaggio’s line of thought. It’s as if you are actually in the mind of characters witnessing every thought they think.

I just got so absorbed in this book that oftentimes, it became difficult to get out of its aura. The thoughts, the passages left me speechless and often took me within the silence of my soul.

You can’t help but stop and stare at the words written by Michael OndaatjeThe narrative of the book shifts constantly creating a mirage of memory.

Should You Read The English Patient?

Yes, you should. What Ondaatje has managed to do is make you feel the pain, the longing and the love of the characters. A book about people damaged by war and life. While reading it, I often got the feeling of being entrapped in the prose. The commas, the fullstops, the timed silences and pauses have a way of provoking emotions and stir the feelings in a deeper way.

You feel like you have just become part of the story, the characters are your long lost friends and you have seen their sufferings and suffered with them. It’s almost deeply emotional and sensuous. I, more often than not, got lost in the spaces between these well punctuated sentences.

Even after reading and finishing the book, I am way deep in the emotional aftermath. It’s actually seeping in. The characters. The lost loves. The nostalgia. The characters have depth, the story line is layered. The author has chosen to slowly reveal the numerous facets of characters. The book often turned into a personal journey for me.