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The English Patient [Paperback]

Michael Ondaatje
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 23 July 1993 --  
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Book Description

23 July 1993
Set at the end of World War II, this novel explores the lives of four very disparate people who find themselves holed up together in a ruined villa north of Florence as the war retreats around them. The author was awarded the 1992 Booker Prize for this book.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (23 July 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330330276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330330275
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 801,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Haunting and harrowing, as beautiful as it is disturbing, The English Patient tells the story of the entanglement of four damaged lives in an Italian monastery as the second world war ends. The exhausted nurse, Hana; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burn victim who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of sheet lightning. In lyrical prose informed by a poetic consciousness, Michael Ondaatje weaves these characters together, pulls them tight, then unravels the threads with unsettling acumen.

A book that binds readers of great literature, The English Patient secured the Booker Prize for author Ondaatje. The poet and novelist has also written In the Skin of a Lion, Coming Through Slaughter and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid; two collections of poems, The Cinnamon Peeler and There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do; and a memoir, Running in the Family. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'One of the most innovative and liberating writers of our time' Guardian 'Magnificent A wise and graceful book about history itself' Sunday Times 'The best piece of fiction in English I've read in years' Independent on Sunday 'Ondaatje has now written the extraordinary novel we have been awaiting from him: THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a masterpiece' Financial Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry as prose 28 May 2008
This is one of the most beautiful books ever written. I dipped into it recently (having read it twice on the past several years) and the quality and beauty of the prose left me staggered at what can be done with the English language. The descriptions put you right into the location with the characters, from Kip in a crater defusing a bomb, to the eponymous patient in the desert.

One of the cleverest things about it is the way that we become acquainted with the characters as they would have got to know one another: in fits and starts, without chronology. They are built up layer by layer, incident by incident. They become visible in the mind's eye. Not only that, but we see the world through their eyes: the image of Kip lighting flares and swinging in space to look at the paintings inside the domes of churches is magical - and I'm not sure Ondaatje could have written it had he not come at Western culture from the East, born as he was into the Ceylon Burgher community.

The plot is complex, the characters are complex, the prose is amongst the best you will ever read. Now and then the switches of time and location will leave you gasping, as you turn the page expecting to read more about one of the characters, only to find yourself dropped into another part of the story.

The only thing that puzzled me was the persistent survival of the patient: that anyone so badly burned could survive so long seems illogical. Aside from that, I thought it was a perfect book about loss and longing, and written with almost implausible talent and skill. Ondaatje is a poet as well as a novelist, and that is very obvious in the pages of this story.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The English Patient 15 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unfortunately I saw the film before I read the book, which I normally try to avoid - Though it was years ago I saw it, I still had Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche in my minds eye. To my surprise, however, the film did not keep faithfully to the book, so I was still able to enjoy new things - For example, Count Almasy's romance with Katharine almost takes a back seat to Hana's life in the Italian villa and the story of Kip, the Sikh sapper. Caravaggio is not the menacing stranger we see in the film, but more of a tortured father figure trying to look after Hana as she slowly starts to recover from the war.

The book it written in Ondaatje's signature style - poetic and atmospheric, slow and emotional. It is powerful and beautiful at the same time, an effect the lingers long after you close the book. The draw-back for me is that sometimes the emotional prose gets a little too flaky and hazy, a bit too dreamy and wandering. I sometimes even get the feeling he is trying too hard to achieve this intimate, rhythmic effect that the result is a little clumsy and contrived.

But without a doubt, this is a moving book about love, the disaster of war and the process of picking up the pieces afterwards. There are beautiful descriptions of the North African deserts and a small cast of vivid and believable characters which makes this book well worth the read.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a book which should be read slowly and preferably aloud. In this highly recommended piece of literature we are taken on a sensual exploration of place and people. It is worth savoring the language which evokes the taste, touch, sight, sound and smell of the characters who are inextricably bound up with their own geographical and human journeys.
Hanna, 'imagines all of Asia through the gestures of this one man.' When Kip looks at Hanna, 'he sees a fragment of her lean cheek in relation to the landscape behind it.' The English Patient vividly recalls the dry heat of the desert being refreshed by a breeze eventually increasing and transforming the surface of the desert. 'We had to keep moving. If you pause sand builds up...and locks you in.' This is the same desert which had just been described as: 'The grooves and the corrugated sand (which) resemble the hollow of the roof of a dog's mouth.' In contrast we experience the freezing cold mud as Kip prepares to defuse an unexploded bomb: 'He had come down barefoot...being caught within the clay, unable to get a firm hold down there in the cold water. He wasn't wearing boots - they would have locked within the clay, and when he was pulleyed up later the jerk out of it could break his ankles.' The faceless English patient wears, 'an amber shell within his ear' so he can hear the clawing and breathing of the dog. He hears, 'the drift of voices, now and then a laugh from the smoky garden. He translates the smell, evolving it backwards to what had been burned.'
This is not a book for those who want a quick read in anticiapation of a comfortable resolution. The language compels us to linger as through our senses it transports us in space and time to places and events that have the appearance of fact rather than fiction.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Poetic Treasure 14 Dec 2009
A crumbling villa sleeps solemnly, deeply buried in the hills of Italy. WWII has torn through the country and an abandoned nunnery has become a hospital where a young nurse, Hana, remains alone to care for her only patient, an English man irrevocably damaged, lost without the memory of his own identity after a tragic plane crash.

The story begins with two individuals brought together in desperate times. Hana is a young nurse toughened by her exposure to the consequence of war, `some men had unwound their last knot of life in her arms'. She remains only to dote on the English patient, a broken man, discovered by the Bedouin in a burning plane. He is bed bound and burnt black but as time unfolds, concealed from the outside world, Hana is unknowingly falling in love with him.

Later, they're joined by Hana's wise friend, Caravaggio. An ex thief used by the government during the war as a thief, he was caught, his fingers cut off and in hospital it would seem by fate he stumbled upon a conversation regarding her whereabouts. They are then discovered by a Sapper, Kip who's routine is reclusive and regimental. The heart's true desires become blurred, as Hana's emotions blossom for another man, and the story delves back into the English patient's forgotten passion yet to be rediscovered.
The story is sewn together in a passionate and poetic collaboration of language and emotion. This is a book that requires your attention and patience.

The English patient is an emotionally challenging read for the mature imagination, with complex and thrilling tales that build and weave, connecting their sorrowful hearts. It may not travel great distances but it delves deep into forgotten memories of a powerful and heartbreaking love. The book will capture you from start to finish and leave your grip reluctantly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
All as described
Published 2 days ago by Mr. A. Fowler
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of my all time favourite books - & the film was terrific too.
Published 14 days ago by Michael K. Chapman
5.0 out of 5 stars it is as good as the film
This is a book we all should read, it is as good as the film!
Published 1 month ago by richard blunt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good read. Sad in parts but a tale of endure meant and caring.
Published 2 months ago by Holly
4.0 out of 5 stars Lengthy descriptions of bomb disposal gets very tedious.
An interesting read, but the time changes in each characters narrative and the frequency within which they occur can be challenging to follow. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jane Walby
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Came in very good condition. Very happy. Bought for a present and they were happy too
Published 3 months ago by Miss L M Willis
2.0 out of 5 stars Review
The novel is about war and love and memory and describes in detail a soldier's dealings with unexploded bombs. It is set in Italy.
Published 4 months ago by xxx xxx
3.0 out of 5 stars Complicated presentation.
I am not blown away by the writing style and find the presentation of a good story overly complex. Is it metaphysical or indulgent. I cant decide.
Published 4 months ago by Dave Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical book
It's a great story - with some very beautiful sections of writn in it - which once read - need to be immediately read again - so that you can bask in the beauty of words.
Published 7 months ago by K. Simmons
3.0 out of 5 stars Yawn
I have to say that I struggled with this. There's no denying that it's quite beautifully written, but it aint alf dull mum. Read more
Published 8 months ago by The Pumpkin Man
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