Everyman’s Library, $24.95, 265 pages
In his 1992 novel, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje wrote a beautiful romance set in an abandoned Italian village studded with undetonated German bombs in the final days of the Second World War. In an empty upstairs room lies “the English patient,” a nameless burn victim who is cared for by Hana, a Canadian nurse, weighted by the darkness of war and her own sense of loyalty. Add to the tale Caravaggio, a maimed former thief, and Kip, an Indian sapper who holds himself aloof, and we are left with a complex cast resting in the implosive waning days of not-quite-knowing. And all of it, of course, points to a love that is abandoned and painful, all-encompassing and healing: “From this point on in our lives, she had whispered to him earlier, we will either find or lose our souls. How does this happen? To fall in love and be disassembled.”
This 2011 Everyman’s Library edition includes an introduction by Indian writer Pico Iyer and a chronology surrounding Ondaatje’s life, the publication of The English Patient, and the success of the novel’s film version.
Reviewed by Jennie A. Camp