Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The English Patient

Finished this amazing book called "The English Patient" by Micheal Ondaatje, yesterday. The book revolves around four people - Hana, a young nurse, who's is nursing her last patient, a burns victim; Caravaggio, an Italian thief, whose thumbs were cut-off when he was caught; Kip, a young Sikh sapper, involved in mine-defusing; and at the centre lies the English patient, burnt beyond recognition, without a face or a name, with just his Herodotus with him, being tended to by the nurse. In the background, the world war-II is raging. The book describes war, through the eyes of these people staying together at the Villa San Girolamo at Pisa. Each of the four people is a victim of the war. Hana - forced to grow up suddenly in the war, tending to soldiers on the verge of death; the Sapper, with his high-risk job of dismantling bombs, his life a daily joust with death; each of them seeing death everywhere, familiar faces disappearing in the clutches of death, hardening, building a shell around themselves, becoming extremely business-like about their occupation, learning not to feel, going like an automaton through the steps - be it nursing or bomb disposal.

Now with the war moving on ahead, the return to normal life is impossible. Each of them is still fighting a war - within themselves. Each finding a reason to live - Hana, who obsessively refuses to abandon the burnt man, tending to him with a fetish, giving him morphine, the sole reliever of his pain, reading to him , listening to his ramblings - filled with history of the world, interspersed with his own life story , narrated in the third person. [ "Death means you are in the third person"] ; Caravaggio - coming back for his friend's daughter and also, trying to determine the identity of the English patient, surviving with his shots of Morphine; Kip - with his disciplined life and with his complete involvement - though detached- in his work; and the English patient, with his History.

The English patient's narrative is filled with anecdotes of ancient history and the geographical descriptions of the desert. Infact, his life is very much like the desert he loves - impossible to decipher completely, shifting shapes, diverse, arid, with brief moments of immense pleasure like an Oasis .

The book also tells of the love between the English patient and Katherine, which lead to his present state, talks of feelings of surrender and possession; also, of Kip and Hana, Hana - losing her father, Kip - losing his mentor, his father-figure; two people drawn together by their loss, an unspoken understanding of what the other has undergone.

Ondaatje's style of writing is melancholic and haunting. The book is like a box being slowly unraveled in front of our eyes. As the story progresses, we feel ourselves being drawn into it, learning bit by bit about the characters and their multi-layered personalities, as you would slowly know a person in real life. Till, you are in the villa, seeing it all happen. You can feel their despair, their brief moments of joy, the utter hopelessness of the war, the havoc it wrecks - on the land, on the soldiers and civilians; the beauty of deserts as seen through the English patient's eyes; the love, the hate , the hope and the wretchedness of it all.

A great read! Deserves the Booker that it has got :)


6 comments:

vaibhav said...

Nice review!!!
it reminds me of a war story wich i read in my 4th std, It was abt 2 frnds fighting from opposite sides. and the last line of story was

"he killed his friend because he loved him" has very deep meaning.

btw when can i borrow the book!!

Bastet said...

hmm.. true.. book, well, anytime, I m done with it now :)

vaibhav said...

just a suggestion:
u can try your hands in writing review for TOI..infact rediff is searching for ppl who can write reveiws!

Bastet said...

thanks! will look it up :)

Tweety said...

Hey.. nice one. I've watched the movie too. And its equally awesome.

Good job!!

Cheers :)

Bastet said...

@ tweety :
Thanks! I loved the book, am yet to watch the movie though!