Friday, March 21, 2008
The English Patient
Nothing that I have to say will tell you more than what is already known about "The English Patient". Everyone has heard of either the book or the movie and through that discover Michael Ondaatje. I took the reverse route. While searching for books by Asian Authors about their countries, I came across Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje. Only after that did I get to know that he was actually famous for "The English Patient". And that is how I came across this book.
The English Patient was very different from Anil's Ghost but yet surprisingly, similar some aspects. I found a lot of similarities between Hana (one of the protagonists of "The English Patient") and Anil. Both are young women, with a surprisingly strong will. They seem very mature and in control of themselves as their lives, and yet, at times, reveal their vulnerability. The child in them surface once in a while and evoke a tender feeling in us and the people who surround them in the novels.
I really liked the way "The English Patient" was written.. It was no linear. You are first taken to a Villa on the hillsides of Florence. While that immediately brings a very pleasant image to your mind, it is not to be so. The story is set during World War II and the slopes of Florences have been ravaged by the war. What is left behind is a dangerous maze of landmines. In fact, the villa itself might have undetonated bombs. In the Villa, we come across a young girl, hardly out of her teens. Se is taking care of a burnt man there in a very self-sufficient way. The man is burnt beyond recognition and Hana falls in love with her english patient in a very non-sexual kind of a way. She feeds him, reads to him, listens to his stories (for that is the only thing the english patient can do - speak). Soon, they have visitors. Hana's father's friend hears about her and comes searching for her to take care of her. He is a thief who later worked for the British intelligence. Once, while Hana plays the piano, a sapper comes in to the villa as well. He specializes in bomb disposal and knows that the germans often booby trapped the musical instruments with bombs. He comes in to make sure the piano is safe and then just stays on.
So, the book is basically about these four very different people - a nurse, a burnt person whose main interest in life is desert exploration, a canadian thief turned british intelligence spy and a sikh sapper from India. They each have been hurt in their own ways in life and turn to the rest for support. hence, a tangled web of relations.
Ondaatje constantly jumps between the past and the present of various characters- mainly kip (the sikh sapper) and the english patient. Caravaggio discovers who the english patient actually is, though he tries to mask his identity. The english patient constants talks about his past, but sometimes in first person and sometimes in the third person to keep himself hidden.
It is fabulous book. takes a while to read and grasp what Ondaatje is actually trying to say. Definitely not a simple read. But it is a great book!