The English patient is a painful story of four people residing in an Italian Villa in the hills of Tuscany during world war second. It is a historical reminiscence of an English patient who is burnt beyond recognition, a nurse serving and taking care of the patient in the dangerous villa ignoring the dangers of mines and bombs in the villa, an Indian Sikh sapper who is an expert in diffusing bombs and a thief. The novel deals with the traumatic experiences of the four characters during the war and the identity crisis of the people. It is the painful story of the four people who live together as a family in the villa and discover the painful secrets of their past and emotional connection that binds them together till the end. The paper that follows should: Explain the traumatic experiences of the four people. How the four people living in the villa discover the truth behind their painful pasts? The Nationalities and identity of the people during the world war second. How they accept the hard reality rather than hiding their true identity.
Hanna, a twenty year old nurse, is busy growing fruits and vegetables in the garden of an Italian villa in the foothills of Tuscany. The rain starts pouring, and she goes inside to the man lying in the bed. The English patient was badly burnt beyond recognition and does not remember anything about him. "A man with no face. An ebony pool. All identification consumed in a fire. Parts of his burned body and face had been sprayed with tannic acid that hardened into a protective shell over his raw skin.” Everybody else has left the villa because of the fear of mines and bombs in the villa, but the nurse refuses to leave her patient and stays in the dangerous place to take care of him. Her job is to take care of the patient, nurse his wounds and feed him. The English Patient intrigued her, she was finding solace in taking care of him and felt secure with her patient, "there is something about him that she wanted to learn, to grow into, and hide in, where she could turn away from being an adult" (52).She asks the patient how he was burnt, to which the patient replies that his plane crashed in the desert, and he fell burning into the desert. Bedouins tribe saw him and saved him. Soon enters the villa Hanna’s old acquaintance, Caravaggio. Caravaggio is a thief and now works with British intelligence. He pleads Hanna to leave the villa and go to a safe place, but his requests are heard by deaf ear and eventually he stays in the villa to protect her from danger. In the evening, Hanna is playing the piano and spots two men in the room. One of them is Kip, an Indian Sikh, “an anonymous member of another race" (197) and another man; they both are soldiers and have come to diffuse the mines in the villa. He locates a mine in the garden and diffuses it with the help of Hanna. Hanna is attracted towards him and soon they become lovers. Initially, there is a lot of passion in their relationship but later on celibacy surrounds their relation and Kip feels protected about Hanna just like a mother protects her child. Hanna is as a replacement for kip’s as if a surrogate mother.
Hanna reads to the patient every night from his book, “Histories by Herodotus” and many other books available in the library of the villa. She is not sure whether the patient listens to her, but she has made books her refuge. She takes care of the small family created in a short time, cultivates fruits and vegetables for them and feed them. The English patient narrates his story that he was part of an expedition in 1930 that went in deserts in search of lost Oasis of Zerzura. The patient shares his views that nationality and identity are superficial and lame. Desert refuses to accept the distinct identities and nationalities and destroys any label put on them. The sandstorms in deserts swipe away all the distinctions and barriers along with it and compares love with the water in the desert. Just like water in the desert is inadequate and a source of life, love is also the life force. The English Patient says,” All I ever wanted was a world without maps.” The patient narrates his story that he was in love with a girl named Katherine Clifton, who was the wife of his colleague Geoffrey Clifton. Geoffrey Clifton brought his wife along on the expedition of the desert and soon they became lovers. The patient describes his love with Katherine as tumultuous where Katherine has made her a sinner. Katherine does not like a lie and is devastated by the thought of Geoffrey knowing about her adultery. Finally, she decides to end her relation with the patient and the patient feels disassembled. As the patient was madly in love with Katherine and cannot live a moment without her made him bitter with her after separation.
Caravaggio is suspicious about the English Patient and tells Hanna that her patient is a spy named Almasy, who used to help German spies to cross the deserts. Caravaggio is determined to reveal the English patient’s identity,” more to discover, to divine out of this body on the bed, nonexistent except for a mouth" (247), Hanna does not believe him and tells that it does not matter her who the patient is as the war is over. One night Caravaggio convinces Hanna to give the patient a cocktail mixed with morphine that will make him intoxicated and he will answer all the questions. Hanna gives him a drink, and the patient tells his entire story. He tells that Geoffrey Clifton got to know about his wife’s relation with him, and he planned a murder-suicide of all the three. Unfortunately in the plane crash Geoffrey dies, and Katherine gets severely injured but nothing happens to the patient. He takes Katherine to the cave of swimmers and makes love to her dead body and promises her that he will return to rescue her. But he got arrested by the British intelligence and returned to the cave after three years. He dugs up the plane takes the Katherine out of the parachute cover and just like a lover cleanses and dresses her up. Afterwards he puts her in the plane but soon the plane sets on fire and is crashed in the deserts. Bedouins tribe people saw him standing burnt, and they help him recover.
The English patient feels very comfortable with Kip and remarks that it’s because they both are sailing on the same boat. Just as The English patient was born somewhere else but worked in the deserts, similarly Kip was born in India and worked for another country. Kip remembers his time in England where he joined the army and eventually became a part of the Bomb diffuse unit. Initially, he wanted to be a doctor but when the war started he entered the army and made very good friends like Lord Suffolk, who Kip adored. But unfortunately Lord Suffolk and his English friends died diffusing a bomb and everyone in the unit started looking upon Kip as he understood the character and joke of the bomb. Kip was uncomfortable with the attention he was getting and was emotionally broken after the death of his friends. So he left England. One day Kip gets the news that westerns have thrown a bomb on Japan. Infuriated he takes his rifle and enters the patient’s room to kill him as he is disgusted with the act of west. Patient begs Kip to kill him, but Kip couldn’t and he leaves the villa. Kip returns to India and becomes a doctor. Hanna often used to write to him but when there were no answers to her letters she stopped writing. Hanna writes to her stepmother how her father died and mourns his death. In the end Kip is seeing reminiscing the time he spent with Hanna, Caravaggio and the English Patient.
According to the New York Times the English Patient is,” Glorious but impossible Love.” It is weaved with characters and circumstances that depict strong feelings for time and space. It deals with strong feeling of the narrator of removing all the identities and nationalities that divides and people in different nations.
According to an excerpt in The Guardian, the writings of Michael Ondaatje have depth and require careful reading. “The book needs to be savored, re-read and understood.”
Ondaatje, Michael. "The English Patient.”. spark notes, n.d. Web. 7 June 2014. < http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/englishpatient/summary.html>
Penner, Tom. _Four Characters in Search of An Author-Function: Foucault, Ondaatje, and the "Eternally Dying" Author in The English Patient1 _. _canlit.ca_. Canadian Literature, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 7 June 2014. Originally appeared in _Canadian Literature_ #165, Summer 2000 (pg. 78 - 93).
Ondaatje, Michael. "The English Patient." . canlit.com, n.d. Web. 7 June 2014. http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDIQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcanlit.ca%2Fsite%2FgetPDF%2Farticle%2F10506&ei=75qSU7azH8uMuASI-IHQAQ&usg=AFQjCNG2l1T056PFMBpUb199C6_mRluazA&bvm=bv.68445247,d.c2E
Ondaatje, Michael. "The English Patient." . The Guardian, n.d. Web. 7 June 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/mar/04/booker-club-english-patient-ondaatje
GROSSMAN, JUDITH. "Glorious but Impossible Loves." . The New York Times, n.d. Web. 7 June 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/06/28/specials/ondaatje-patient.html