Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Michael Ondaatje- The English Patient

I absolutely loved this book, which kind of surprised me since I saw the film when it first came out and all I remember is thinking, "What a stupid movie. It's basically two hours of adultery. Whoop de doo". (Also, I was young enough that I likely didn't grasp half of what the movie was telling me anyway).
Of course I'm not foolish enough to think that any movie ever fully captures it's literary counterpart, but this really blew me away. I found the book to be so very rich- and, as a classmate put it- reminiscent of Steinbeck. Every phrase effects all the senses or at least moves you, and the use of landscape and environment was phenomenal.
As a post-colonial text I was glad to see something so internationalized that spoke of hybridity- as Almasy says, "Kip and I are both international bastard--born in one place and choosing to live elsewhere. Fighting to get back to or get away from our homelands all our lives" (176). It so poignantly comments on globalism, particularly as a facet of war, and it speaks so strongly of the fundamental impact that war has on everyone. The theme of nationalism is so interesting here, especially the dichotomy between Hana, who doesn't care what nationality Almasy is and Kip, who considers it to be of the utmost importance. Of course it is possible that nationality becomes critical when the issue of aligning yourself with a power is presented (for example, spying and undermining for the Nazis, or working for the British) and this book illustrated this perfectly.
I loved the imagery of all the old art which is everywhere, even in Caravaggio's name- and the presentation of history. The setting alone was lovely, and I felt that the piognant image of Kip painstakingly dismantling so many tiny, intricate bombs to protect people he has never met, for a country he is not from and which his brother hates, only to discover that an entire people has been assaulted by such an enormous tragedy of a gigantic bomb. I am so profoundly glad that Kip didn't die (although I had anticipated it through the entire novel, dreading it but expecting it nonetheless). As much as I claim to like realism and I do generally demand reality- or some semblance of it- this book contains too many other painful elements to kill the only pure things it does contain. With something as traumatic as the world wars, especially when examining how terrible colonialism and the "West" has been ("when you start bombing the brown races of the world, you're an Englishman"(286), "they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation", (286)- "You had wars like cricket" (283))
My personal favorite, which I find tremendously applicable to certain leaders today, is "Listen to the radio and smell the celebration in it. In my country, when a father breaks justice in two, you kill the father" (285).
I may read this again but I probably won't need to for a long time. It's like Steinbeck in that way, too; it holds you over and remains embedded and a part of you, and rereading it is simply digging deeper into something that has remained inside you all along.

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