Summary of the book
The story begins in Italy 1945. A Canadian nurse, Hana, is caring for a mysterious Englishman, in a by the war destroyed villa. This English patient has burns all over his body and has no memory of his past. He has a book, with him were he has written things in about his live before he had been burned, called Herodotus. Something like a diary. Hana tries to comfort her patient as much as possible. She is soon joined by a Canadian thief, David Caravaggio, who was a friend of Hana’s father. And a while after that also another person comes to the villa: When Hana is playing piano, she hears someone screaming that she must stop playing. She stops and the person checks the piano if there aren’t any bombs inside. He disarms the bomb that’s inside the piano and saves Hana. This person is Kirpal Singh an bombdisarmer and it becomes clear that there are often bombs hidden in piano’s during the war. After a while Kirpal, who is called Kip by them, and Hana are getting a relation. All these people are curious who the English person now exactly is. They are trying to find out by reading his diary the Herodotus and sometimes if they are saying familiar words he reminds him something about his past and tells is to them. In this flashbacks becomes clear that the English patient the Hungarian Count the Almasy is. So there is the story of Hana, Kip, Caravaggio, and the English patient and in that story there is the story of the English patient about his life before he got burned.
Almasy was a member of the Royal Geographic Society, part of an international expedition that was mapping the desert in Egypt. A young man named Geoffrey Clifton, who has just got married his wife Katherine contacted Almasy and a few weeks later flew he with his wife to Cairo to take together part of the expedition. Almasy finds himself attracted to this beautiful woman and when danger drives them together they get a relationship. After a while Clifton, Katherine’s husband becomes suspicious and takes her back to England. Almasy was left alone in the Gilf Kebir. After a year Almasy gets a message from Clifton, he will pick him up with his plane, to go further with the expedition. In the desert Amasy waits and hears the plane coming, but the plane crashes fifty meters away from him. He enters the plane and he expects to see Clifton, but Katherine is in his plane too. Clifton is already dead, but Katherine is slowly moving. He carries her into the Cave of Swimmers, a cave they already had discovered. She is badly injured and need help as soon as possible. Almasy is going to get help and is leaving the Herodotus behind, just to let see he will return. After three days of walking he arrives in El Taj. He says he need help because there is an injured woman in the desert, but nobody believes him and they think he is a spy. Almasy takes a spy, Eppler, with him to go to the desert. Finally he arrives by plane by Katherine, but she is already dead. He takes his book en carries Katherine into the plane, and flies away. Than he got shot and the plane crashes and Almasy get burned. That’s how the English patient got burned.
In the meantime its getting worse with the English patient and he asks Hana to give him twice the daily proportion Methadon. She gives it him and he dies. They all leave the villa and that’s the end.
Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on Sept 12, 1943. In 1948 his parents separated because of his father's alcoholism. He and his mother, brother and sister moved to Britain in 1954, where he finished his education. He came to Canada in 1962, where he studied English and History. In his student days he started to write poems. In 1965 he received his BA from the University of Toronto. Ondaatje taught at the University of Western Ontario from 1967 to 1971, and since 1971 he has been a member of the English Department at Glendon College, a part of York University in Toronto.
Ondaatje has written many books:
* Dainty Monsters (1967)
* The Man with Seven Toes (1969)
* Rat Jelly (1973)
* The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems (1970) won the Governor General's award in 1971
* There's a Trick with a Knife I'm learning to do (1978) won the Governor General's award in 1980
* Cinnamon Peeler (1991)
* Coming through Slaughter (1976) concerns the madness and death of New Orleans jazz musician Buddy Bolden
* Running in the Family (1982) about his family's life in Ceylon
* In the skin of a lion (1987) set in 1930's Toronto
* The English Patient (1992) set in WWII Italy, won the Booker Prize in 1992
The Booker Prize is England's highest honor for fiction. He had to share the prize with the writer of the book 'Sacred Hunger', Barry Unsworth, because the jury didn't want to make a choice between the two books. The book was filmed in 1996 by Anthony Minghella. The film received 12 (!) Oscar Nominations.
Ondaatje uses in his prosework a collage technique by which eventually bit by bit all parts fall into their places in the whole.
Besides some persons appear in several of Ondaatjes books. (e.g. Hana and Caravaggio figure in both 'In the skin of a lion' and 'The English Patient'.
Ideas of the writer in relation of the book
Michael Ondaatje always spends a lot of time on writing a book. He spent six years writing the book the Englisch patient. Often he writes the first chapter last, because it sets up the story. He never pays attention on the order he writes in. It's collaging and piecing. He never really has a complete idea. He started the novel the Enlisch Patient with writing about the plane crash. All the four main characters where there, but he didn't know how they where linked yet. The nurse in the Englisch Patient was there before he found out she was Hana. He reveals himself through the character much more amazingly than he could by himself. He is always writing things that aren't very similar to his habits. To come up with an idea he starts going on trips, going to places to get a historical perspective. Then he ripps on into the writing. He lives a life where he goes to work in one ara, or place or historical momement and at the end of the day return to another. He's often uncertain about what he's trying to make. The clarity doesn't have a face for people he's writing. He was inside Hana's head or Caravaggio's head, but he didn't know what they look like. He does research it often happens that what he wants to find out cannot be found. For the Englisch patient he went to the Royal Geographic Society, he wanted to find out something about the desert in 1935. He limited himself to knowledge of bomb disposal up to about 1941. In this way you're learning and writing at the same time. The story begins with the plane crash, he says he just got the image and there it was. The medecine man was an adoption he had seen in cairo where he was in 1978. How he came up with the idea Herodotus: He had already read some of him. Then ther was a reference to him in one of the eplorer's desert journals. He thought it was great he liked the sence of people reading books within the novel.
This book was very difficult to read, especially in the beginning. Because you don’t know yet what is going on, and you don’t even know who says what. It is not the language that makes it difficult, it is the way the story is built. But later in the book it improves, and after we saw the movie it was even better. When you understand the story it is a beautiful book. But it is a pity that that happens very late in the book.
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