With unsettling beauty and intelligence, this Golden Man 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Alternating between a ruined Italian villa and the swirling sands of the Sahara, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize–winning novel is a spellbinding read. Set just after World War II, the story follows Hana, a 20-year-old nurse who has seen awful things. One patient catches her attention: a terribly burned English pilot. She cares for him with monk-like dedication in an abandoned house, soaking in his remarkable stories. But as more information comes out, questions arise; is he really who he says he is? With romance, a touch of mystery, and a captivating sense of place, The English Patient is a modern classic for good reason.
A poet's sensitive, deep-seeing eye, a fluid, sensuous prose and imaginative juxtapositions of characters and events distinguish Canadian author Ondaatje's impressive novels ( Coming Through Slaughter ; In the Skin of a Lion ; etc.). Here again he brings together disparate characters whose lives intersect at a crucial moment in history, and introduces real-life figures who add dimension and credibility to the story. The four people who take shelter in an abandoned villa in Italy during the final days of WW II are in retreat from a world gone mad; each of them is bent on protecting painful memories and pondering irreplaceable losses. The mysterious ``English patient'' has been horribly burned while parachuting into the Libyan desert; his face unrecognizable and his identity unknown, he gradually reveals his tragic story through the prompting of David Caravaggio, a professional thief and former spy whose hands and spirit have been maimed by Nazi torturers. Caravaggio has come to the villa in search of Hana, a woman who is nursing the burned man, whom Caravaggio has known since her childhood in Toronto. Close to emotional breakdown herself, dry-souled Hana is nourished by her love for Kip, a Singh demolitions expert whose perilous craft reflects the fragility of all their lives. Each is ``playing a game of secrets,'' which Ondaatje reveals in a suspenseful narrative whose gripping scenes (a desert sandstorm; the defusing of live bombs) call to mind the sudden brilliance of subjects illuminated by Caravaggio's artist namesake, to whose work Ondaatje elliptically refers. If the events of the novel's closing pages seem forced, they underscore Ondaatje's message about the lingering effects of war's brutality.
An absolutely amazing read. Real emotion and thought.