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Review: The English Patient

May 3, 2009


As World War II comes to an end, a young Canadian nurse, Hanna, has decided to stay behind at an Italian villa, turned make-shift hospital, to tend a horribly burned man she believes to be English.  The patient has a book with him and can tell elaborate stories from his past, but will not tell her his name.

Also joining them at the villa are Carvaggio, an old friend of Hanna’s father who served as a spy for the British during the war because of his skills as a thief.  Carvaggio’s thumbs have been amputated by the Germans.  A young Indian sapper (an expert in bomb disposal) Kip, comes to join them too.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is the story of these four unlikely comrades.  Narration skips from the present to the past and from character to character as they each tell the story of their lives.  This confused me a few times.  Even though the writing in this book is beautiful, the story was slow for me.  I read this book years ago (when the movie was released) and re-read it recently.  I enjoyed it more the second time around, but still didn’t feel any great affinity for it.

Michael Ondaatje is Sri-Lankan Canadian.  He won the Booker Prize and the Governor’s General Award for The English Patient.  Here’s a great interview with him:

29 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2009 6:13 am

    I have tried to read this book and tried to watch the movie and didn’t have an luck with either one. It is still on my list for eventually.

    • May 3, 2009 7:09 am

      I loved The English Patient. I thought it was incredibly beautiful and moving. If you want to read this book, don’t see the movie first please!!:-) I thought the book was wonderful.

  2. May 3, 2009 6:58 am

    I have never read it, I tried to watch the movie but I am not really a movie person. I might get myself to read the book some day.

  3. May 3, 2009 7:17 am

    I too thought this book was slow to start. I suspect I’d like it more on another reading, when maybe the pieces would come together more effectively.

  4. May 3, 2009 7:32 am

    I agree with you that it was confusing at times!

  5. May 3, 2009 7:47 am

    This is one of those cases where I thought the movie was better than the book.

  6. stacybuckeye permalink
    May 3, 2009 9:17 am

    Kudos to you for reading it again after you didn’t love it the first time! Personally, I could not wait for the movie to end so I would never even consider reading it once 🙂

  7. May 3, 2009 9:40 am

    I really liked the movie, but I think I’ll pass on the book. Thanks for the review!

  8. May 3, 2009 10:07 am

    I loved the book “English Patient” too. He writes beautifully. I haven’t read his poems.

  9. May 3, 2009 11:25 am

    Thanks for the video. It was interesting to see him and hear him talk. I agree with Meghan, it’s possible that it would be easier the second time through. But I won’t be picking it up again any time soon.

  10. May 3, 2009 11:37 am

    I never saw the film and will admit to not knowing that it was based on a book! Maybe I will try it.

  11. May 3, 2009 12:03 pm

    Like I said on Twitter, I have seen the movie but still haven’t read the book. I have read his other novels, though, and agree that his writing is beautiful! One of these days I will read this one.

  12. May 3, 2009 12:04 pm

    I watched the movie years ago. My mother just loves the movie. I was sort of busy and interrupted but I thought it had great potential. I want read the books sometime. Thanks for the review. Did I miss the “why” you read it again? Just curious.

  13. May 3, 2009 1:41 pm

    I have never read the book but have seen the movie. I had no clue it was based on a book when I saw it so long ago.

    It always reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine absolutely hates the movie despite everyone else’s love for it. Funny, funny episode. 🙂

  14. May 3, 2009 1:57 pm

    I have this one on my list. I thought the movie was ok, and I’m curious to see if the book is better. My husband says that he can’t stand the movie (I think just because of the Seinfeld episode) but I don’t think he’s ever tried to watch it all the way through.

  15. May 3, 2009 3:18 pm

    The synopsis of this sounds good but the excerpts I’ve read left me confused so I probably won’t be picking this one up.

  16. May 3, 2009 10:28 pm

    I’ve never read this or seen the film, but I would like to do both at some point.

  17. May 3, 2009 10:55 pm

    I would rather stick a pin in my eye than read this one again. I know. Harsh words but it was so painfully slowwww.

  18. May 4, 2009 10:57 am

    I really enjoyed the movie, I’ve watched it a few times. I haven’t tackled the book. I think I’d like to but who knows when.

  19. May 4, 2009 12:42 pm

    I never saw the movie, but tried to pick up the book a few times. Sounds like I’m not really missing too much, as I’m not huge on war-time reads.

    🙂 Wendi

  20. May 4, 2009 5:26 pm

    I found the video very interesting. I like hearing how authors feel about their books. For instance, how he never reads them after they come out or the hours he works. Also, I enjoyed his comment about how Americans only look at success.

    Thanks for the video.

  21. May 4, 2009 9:45 pm

    I have this one on my shelf and hope to read it for the WWII challenge. Would it be okay to link to your review on the book reviews page at War Through the Generations?


  22. May 5, 2009 9:08 pm

    I’ve got to get around to reading this one soon. Haven’t seen the movie version yet either – I’m so behind the times lol!
    Thanks for the great review 🙂

  23. May 6, 2009 3:41 pm

    Great review! This was a great book club book.

  24. May 7, 2009 1:30 pm

    I really liked this book when I read it ages ago. This is another book for the WWII reading challenge…AHEM! 🙂 Nudge…Nudge…

  25. November 12, 2009 8:15 am

    I posted this here on War Through the Generations.

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